Residents stress importance of health issues

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Wed., May 10, 2006

Sydney - A 20-minute homemade video offered panel members a peek into the everyday lives of those living adjacent to Sydney's toxic sites as well as a history of suffering melded to nearly a century of steelmaking.

Members of Save Our Healthcare Committee videotaped neighbours who exhibit ongoing skin conditions, cancers and respiratory illnesses they say are the result of living near or working on the toxic sites.

"My father Thomas worked at the steel plant, he was a veteran of World War II," said Ada Hearn, a former Frederick Street resident. "He was diagnosed with lung disease from working on the coke ovens. The cancer ravaged his entire body."

She described how the family cared for him until he died, March, 27, 1998.

"I thought to myself, he worked it, lived it, breathed it all of his life to provide for his family. And then I cursed it for what it did to him and to us."

Hearn's mother Mary was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1968, and later breast cancer. Her mother sat through Tuesday's joint panel hearing at the Victoria Park Armouries in Sydney.

"She, like my father, stands behind me and continuously tells me to keep fighting for our health and not to give up," said Hearn.

In May 1999, Hearn headed a protest camp near the Sydney home of former Nova Scotia Premier Russell MacLellan. For nearly a month, protesters demanded that government protect the health of residents, especially children.

Around the same time, government offered Frederick Street residents a buyout of their properties, citing compassion as its reason for doing so.

"There were more important reasons that they would not admit to," said Hearn.

Hearns said that a few years later, government said that there were toxic hot spots in the neighbourhood directly north of the coke ovens. Scientists said it wasn't safe for children to play in those areas, which included residential properties.

"They were not allowed to touch the dirt," said Hearn. "What were we to do? Hang the children out on the clothesline with the morning wash?"

Hearn said residents will not tolerate a cleanup before residents are moved safely from the sites.

Those residential properties were later remediated.

Mary Ruth MacLellan said residents should be given the option of a short-term or permanent relocation, or government should make it mandatory if living near the cleanup is too dangerous.

"We spent enough money already that we could have moved the entire city," said MacLellan.

Representatives from the Cape Breton Development Corporation (Devco) participated in Tuesday's hearing at the panel's request. Devco owns the Victoria Junction Wash Plant located along Grand Lake Road in Sydney, property the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency has listed as a preferred site for a PCB incinerator.

Bob MacDonald, Devco's director general of property and environment, described the current characteristics of the wash plant. He said acid mine drainage is currently contaminating nearby wetlands, and groundwater on the site is also dirty. There is a drainage system on the wash plant site designed to capture surface water and to direct it from the property. It's planned that a waste pile, covering about six hectares, will have a leachate collection system to capture contamination and the pile will be capped. Any remaining sources of contamination will also be managed, a process that could take up to a year to complete.

Ron Marman, a Grand Lake Road resident, said he was pleased to hear MacDonald describe parts of the property as wetlands. As well, he got confirmation from Devco residents that the site has experienced flooding in the past. Marman said both of those characteristics should exclude the wash plant from the Sydney Tar Pond Agency's list as a possible site for a PCB incinerator.

Another possible site for the incinerator is at Phalen, which is also owned by Devco. Merrill Buchanan, Devco president, said the agency only included the wash plant in its letter-of-intent sent in April, 2005. And, there are other parties showing interest in purchasing part of the Phalen property, which currently houses some of the Crown corporation's office buildings.

In other presentations, representatives from the Cement Association of Canada and the Portland Cement Association gave a comprehensive presentation on the effectiveness of solidification and stabilization for remediating toxic sites.

Some hard facts about cement

The Cement Association of Canada and the Portland Cement Association, both non-profit associations, presented information of solidification and stabilization during Tuesday's joint review panel hearing. Here are their properties and methods as described by the organizations:

  • Relatively low cost
  • Good long-term stability
  • Documented use over time
  • Wide-spread acceptance
  • Non-toxicity of ingredients
  • Treat hazardous waste (bottom ash)
  • Wide range of volume increase factors
  • Inert to radiation
  • Resistant to biodegradation
  • Low water solubility.
  • Relatively low water permeability
  • Good physical characterictics:
    • Stabilization: Reduces hazard potential of the hazardous waste by converting contaminants into their least soluble forms
    • Solidification: Converts liquids, sludges and other physically non-stable hazardous wastes into stable solids

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:
Mary-Ruth MacLellan presented at Tuesday's Joint Review Panel in Sydney on behalf of the Save Our Healthcare Committee. Other presenters included the Cape Breton Development Corporation and the Cement Association of Canada and the Portland Cement Association.