Transparent communication on air exceedences during cleanup discussed during Day 6

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Sat., May 6, 2006

Sydney - Joint panel members hinted an open and transparent communication plan alerting residents to air exceedances during the tar ponds cleanup will be among their recommendations to ministers.

Chairperson Lesley Griffiths asked staff with Nova Scotia Environment and Labour at Friday's hearing if it's within the department's ability to require a community alert system as part of the project's permit requirements.

The provincial department said it does have the "latitude" to demand an air emission exceedance alert system.

Griffiths then asked if the department would welcome a panel recommendation for a defined public warning system. The department said it would.

"Air is going to be one of the biggest issues for this project," said department staff. "We'll be pressing hard for air monitoring that gives early warnings."

The province's medical officer of health, Dr. Jeff Scott, said the Department of Nova Scotia Health Promotion and Protection supports a public warning system as well. It also has legislative capabilities under the Health Protection Act and new Health Hazard Regulations. The legislation gives it the ability to act to protect and reduce risk to public health.

"Trust and accountability" are significant considerations if the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency wants the public to have a high level of confidence in the cleanup and possible impacts to human health, said Scott.

"Anxiety comes when things are hidden."

The public, the medical officer of health and other stakeholders should have the ability to provide input and participate in the design of the communication program to ensure it's best suited to assess short-term and long-term impacts to human health.

Scott said that once the program is up and running, health professionals should be able to provide opinions directly to the public on how those exceedances could put residents at risk.

Scott also cautioned that an "unplanned incident at the incineration site, during startup or operation, might derail the entire cleanup process. The psychological and potential adverse health effects of such an incident should not be underestimated."

Panel member William Charles asked for clarification as to the type of 'incident' Scott considered when he made the comment.

Scott said his concern is that a minor incident could be perceived as a major event.

"Pubic perception is very important."

During the hearing, Scott said he also recommends a legacy for the revitalization of the community.

"The cleanup must address the long-term socio-economic benefits which will improve the health status of all residents."

Day 6 of the hearings also touched on the classification of the tar ponds and coke oven sites once the final load of sediment is removed and caps are cured.

"Will they still be contaminated sites," asked Griffiths.

Provincial Environment Department officials said a determination hasn't been made yet if the sites, which will continue to hold about 11 per cent of its PCBs, will still be classified as contaminated. However, it will be a managed site with long-term monitoring requirements.

That brought Griffiths back to her concern about liability once the project is complete.

Department staff said once a party is involved in the properties, they are considered a responsible person under its act. The department did add that changes are coming in regards to identifying liability issues in this province.


Air Monitoring Program as recommended by Nova Scotia Health Promotion and Protection at Friday's hearing:

  • A targeted, acute and lone-term program focused upon health related discharges
  • An open and transparent process for reporting air quality:
    • developed by stakeholders
    • report to community, MOH
    • include summary statistics
    • current and cumulative values
    • health impact interpretations
  • Quality assurance program which monitors the sensitivity and specificity of the air monitoring program
  • A communications plan which incorporates the views/comments of regional MOH regarding health impacts

Cleanup in a click
Web sites that provide information on the joint panel process and the remediation plan include:

Picture not available for caption below:
Left to right, Dr. Jeff Scott, the province's chief medical officer of health, and Gordon Mowat, consultant, answer questions during Friday's joint panel hearing. All hearings take place at the Victoria Park Armouries, Ogilvie Building, Sydney.