Tar ponds panel hears about social impact

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Mon., May 8, 2006

Sydney - Social impacts intricately tied to Sydney's toxic sites were exposed Saturday during a well-received presentation by Don Deleskie, a resident who gained national notoriety for his animated and passionate pleas to government to clean up the tar ponds and coke oven sites.

Deleskie told members of a joint review panel assessing Sydney's cleanup plans that Cape Breton's cure for cancer is simple.

"Clean up the tar ponds," he said. "Clean up the coke oven sites."

During the hearing, Deleskie said he didn't approve of the Sydney Tar Pond Agency's plan to excavate PCB sediment and cap the two contaminated sites.

"I believe in a cleanup," said Deleskie. "I don't believe in a cover up. It's not going to work. You're going to see the water rise. What's going to happen when it cracks?"

Deleskie also asked what would happen if a mistake was made. He asked whether the community would be brought before another review panel hearing in 40 years time.

Deleskie spent more than 20 years campaigning for an effective clean up of the tar ponds and was known to hijack political events to attract attention to the sites. On those occasions, he would snag the media's attention by taking a shovel to the ponds.

He said his passion emerged from despair he felt following his mother's death when he was a young boy living in Whitney Pier, and grew when witnessing the high rate of cancer incidents and cancer deaths as well as other illnesses in his community.

During his crusade, Deleskie, along with his brother the late Ron Deleskie, knocked on about 3,500 doors in Whitney Pier and other communities around the sites. He said the tally of people with illnesses in those homes and the number of widows left struggling financially due to a spouse's untimely death, disgusted him.

"Welcome to the city of death," said Deleskie. "If you want to live, blow out; don't breathe in."

Deleskie said he was sickened by the suggestion that a golf course could be constructed on the remediated sites. Workers at the coke ovens died from exposure to emissions rising from the making of steel, he said.

"Women and men gave their life."

Eric Brophy, a concerned resident attending the hearings, mirrored sentiments made to Deleskie following his presentation, which received a standing ovation.

"The Deleskie family is owed a deep, deep sense of gratitude," said Brophy. "Don, we love you and thank you very much."

Florian Levesque, a representative from The Return to Sender Coalition, presented information Saturday to show Belledune's experience with incineration. Although often challenged by the Joint Review Panel to show relevance to Sydney's cleanup plan, Levesque described how Bennett Environmental Inc. got the green light from New Brunswick's environment minister and municipal government to construct an incinerator.

In a human health risk assessment using air dispersion and deposition models prepared for the Belledune incinerator, it was predicted that dioxins, furans, arsenic, and benzo(a)pyrene emissions would increase residents' risks of cancer and non-cancer diseases.

"The consultants who prepared the health risk assessment dismissed these results as being an artifact of the overly conservative health risk model they were using for their assessment," said Levesque. "But for most local residents, they had a different interpretation of the results. They saw their area becoming a sacrifice zone."

He also recounted the accidental release of PCBs from the hazardous waste incinerator in Swan Hills, Alberta, and studies that showed dioxins and furans were in soil around the Saint-Ambroise incinerator in Quebec that operated there since 1997. The Quebec government held Bennett accountable for contamination and ordered the company to develop an Environmental Monitoring Program and to reduce emissions.

"The dioxin contamination caused by Bennett in the Saint-Ambroise area will not go away for decades, and this could have been prevented with a proper public debate of the original incineration proposal made by the company," said Levesque. "And it is important to note that such a debate has never happened in Belledune."

The Cape Breton District Health Authority also commented on incineration during its presentation Saturday. It recommends all contaminants in the tar pond and coke ovens sites be solidified and stabilized instead of excavating PCBs and burning the sediment at an incinerator. Representatives said among its reasons for the recommendation is the need to protect residents from any additional stress.

The district also recommends that the Cape Breton Regional Municipality not be held financially responsible for repairs if the project fails in the future. It also recommends a legislative commitment to monitoring the project.

Representatives from Cape Breton Save Our Healthcare Committee also presented Saturday. They focused on chemical sensitivity and the need for a precautionary principle to protect human health during the life of the project.


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

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Work of tireless activist Don Deleskie is noted they have an agenda