Incineration option not popular with joint panel review audience

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Wed., May 17, 2006

Sydney - Implications of a cleanup plan without incineration were at the heart of most questions posed by members of a joint review panel as this community edges closer to an approved project.

Panel members quickly delved into the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency's ability to handle some "pretty nasty stuff" in the tar cell if incineration isn't used. Specifically, the panel questioned the level of comfort the agency had in using solidification and stabilization to treat the cell's contaminants.

The agency responded that it's confident that with further testing, it could find the correct cement mixture to encapsulate 25,000 tonnes of the toxic mix settled in the cell. It added that the method of stabilizing and solidifying the goo would be similar to efforts proposed for the tar ponds. About 1,300 tonnes of toxic material excavated from a contaminated stream would be plunked into the cell as well.

Removing incineration as an option would save tax dollars too. The agency said the total cost of the project would drop to $327.5 million from $400 million approved in a memorandum of agreement signed by both the provincial and federal governments.

"Federal government keeps the change," clarified Frank Potter, acting chief executive officer of the tar ponds agency.

The agency stated that full stabilization and solidification of both sites would meet environmental regulations. It was also an option considered in the Environmental Impact Statement, a document detailing potential impacts from the agency's plans.

Panel member Louis LaPierre wanted to know the level of confidence the agency had in its capping (monolith) proposal, and the degree the harbour will be protected from further contamination.

"How certain are you that the water won't reach the harbour?" asked LaPierre. "If you encountered problems, could you put in a pump and treat system to ensure that water from the coke ovens sites, as its percolating through the system, doesn't get to the harbour?"

Agency experts said the final design would provide greater detail on water pathways and acceptable monitoring programs.

Marlene Kane, a concerned citizen actively opposed to incineration, denounced both incineration and solidification and stabilization during her presentation Tuesday. She said that when government ruled that the full removal and destruction of all contaminants identified at the sites was too expensive, the agency brought forward its current proposal - to incinerate 120,000 tonnes of PCB-impacted sediments and the solidification and stabilization of remaining sediments.

"To date, I have not seen the evidence which suggests that solidification and stabilization is a tried-and-true method on organic sediments and that incineration has proven safe and effective at other locations," said Kane. "In fact, we've seen much evidence during these hearings that flies in the face of both of these statements."

Kane said that she became involved in the cleanup when the province planned to burn 700,000 tonnes of toxic sludge at an incinerator built in the 1980s. That plan was later scrapped.

"My children were very young at the time and I was quite prepared to move them away from Sydney if the incinerator was to be used," said Kane. "I have been actively opposing incineration in this community for the past decade and it's been an uphill battle."

She said she wasn't surprised when the tar ponds agency added incineration to its current cleanup plans. However, Sydney's mothballed tar ponds incinerator was deemed unsuitable for the current cleanup proposal and didn't meet acceptable guidelines.

"Governments are now proposing to burn 120,000 tonnes of PCB-impacted sediments, 25,000 tonnes of tar cell contaminants and other materials at Victoria Junction, which would also violate the 1992 (Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment) guidelines because of its close proximity to homes, a dairy farm and to Cape Breton University."

Kane said the tar ponds agency is bypassing those regulations by classifying its proposed PCB incinerator a mobile incinerator.

"An incinerator facility set up for at least five years is not a mobile incinerator," said Kane. "This is a blatant disregard of the commitments made to this community by the federal government. The 1992 guidelines must apply, at a minimum."

Kane said the community doesn't want to implement a technology, like incineration, that will generate even more toxic by-products, such as dioxins and furans, to further contaminate the air residents breathe and the community's surrounding environment.

"It's encouraging to see so many people, including the Cape Breton District Health Authority and other health professionals, speak out against incineration," she said. "It's unfortunate that the university is not in agreement with that position. I do not want my son to attend a university that is in close proximity to a hazardous waste incinerator - although we have little choice, as it is the only university in Cape Breton."

Kane outlined struggles the community had with a municipal incinerator on Grand Lake Road that burned household waste and the province's biomedical waste until it closed in December, 2005.

"The (municipality) was in non-compliance with its opening approval for dioxin and furan emissions for the past four out of five years, but not once did the Nova Scotia Department of Environment order the shutdown of the incineration facility," Kane told panel members. "The real impacts on the community will never be known.

"Had the province not been continually challenged by a number of people, I'm confident the incinerator would still be operating today and the province would still be shipping all of the province's biomedical waste to Sydney. We cannot rely on the provincial regulator to protect this community."

She said the only way to remediate the tar ponds and coke ovens sites is to offer voluntary relocation to nearby residents and to establish a buffer zone. She said she would leave it up to professionals to determine the appropriate size of that zone.

"Following that, all work must be performed within enclosures under negative pressure, with charcoal filtration," she said.

As well, stationary monitors should be used, there should be more stationary monitors located around the sites, and an intensive real-time monitoring plan be established.

"If government would only spend as much on protecting the health of residents through relocation and mitigative measures just mentioned, as they are spending in management fees for this project, the community would be much better off."

Identifying Technologies

Td Enviro Inc. participated in the 2002 Technology Demonstration Program aiming to identify technologies that could be applied to tar ponds and coke ovens sites cleanup. During its presentation at Tuesday's hearing, the company outlined the results of the demonstration.

Key results

  • Low PCB sediment(PCB<35 ppm)treated successfully (Low PCB sediment accounts for 94% of all sediment in the ponds)
  • Seventy-five percent of product generated from treatment of low PCB sediment is in the form of re-usable, non-hazardous, solid carbon fuel. Tar ponds cleanup would yield 350,000 dry tonnes of carbon fuel.
  • Balance of product(25 percent)composed of two main fractions:
    - Clean, coarse mineral matter > 1 mm particle size
    - Fine mineral matter < 1 mm particle size that may require thermal post-treatment (Direct Thermal desorption)
  • High PCB sediment(PCB>35 ppm) accounts for 6 percent of all sediment
  • Recommended treatment of high PCB sediment via indirect Thermal Desorption or Pyrolysis (such as UMATAC - a canadian technology)
  • Indirect Thermal Desorption/Pyrolysis would generate 2,000 tonnes of PCB condensate.
  • Destruction of PCB condensate strictly off-site(Hydrogen-Reduction, Terra Clean "Sonoprocess" Chemical Treatment or other PCB destruction facility)
  • Residual solids from indirect Thermal Desorption/Pyrolysis can be processed in Clean Soil Process for recovery of additional carbon fuel.
  • St. Lawrence Cement Group examined carbon fuel for suitability as alternate fuel for cement kilns.
  • Facility licensed for variety of alternate fuels
  • Confirmed interest in utilizing carbon fuel
  • Enough fuel to co-fire kilns for six years
  • No additional cost to project

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:
Jim Kramer, TD Enviro Inc. holds a jar of carbon fuel the company produced from tar ponds sediment during technology demonstrations conducted in 2002. Today is the final day of presentations to the panel. Thursday and Friday are reserved for final comments. The hearings will conclude at midnight friday.