Plan for PCBs may be snuffed out

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Thurs., May 18, 2006

SYDNEY - Incineration plans for destroying nasty PCBs from the tar ponds appeared to be snuffed out Wednesday.

Full encapsulation of the tar ponds and coke ovens sites took centre stage as the main component of the cleanup during the final days of panel hearings at Victoria Park Armouries.

Members of the joint review panel requested a return visit from Environment Canada Wednesday morning in an effort to clarify Canada's regulations on managing PCB waste and to seek guidance from the federal department. "It would really help us if we could get some advice from you," said Lesley Griffiths, panel chairperson. "Is there anything you've heard that would lead you to question that (solidification and stabilization) is a proven technology for the types of sediments you have here?'

Environment Canada staff said although they didn't review all information presented during the hearings, they contend there is nothing that changes their position. They maintain technologies proposed to encapsulate the sites are proven technologies.

A review of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency's plan was peer reviewed by Environment Canada's experts and the department is comfortable with its support of the project as outlined in the agency's project description.

Panel member Louis LaPierre reiterated his concern that leachate from the coke ovens fractured bedrock could find its way to Sydney harbour. "What confidence do you have that the water will be captured," asked LaPierre.

Environment Canada said that although the bedrock is fractured, there is a hydraulic driving force that moves water to the tar ponds. As well, there are two degrees of fractured bedrock. Water emerging from the site's shallow network of fractures will be captured in a complex water collection system to be constructed under the tar ponds' cap.

Staff will try to answer panel's questions

The deeper fractures should contain low levels of contaminants resulting in less environmental concern. However, the federal regulator strongly recommends a vigilant monitoring system to confirm its beliefs.

Ironically, Canada's implementation plan for persistent organic pollutants, which includes PCBs, was to be submitted by Wednesday to the Stockholm Convention, under the direction of the United Nations Environment Protection Program. As of late Wednesday, the plan wasn't posted on the convention's website.

Panel member William Charles asked what the possible ramifications of the country's plans for PCBs could be if total encapsulation of the sites was recommended. "Does it change anything," he asked.

The department's representatives said they didn't know. However, the country's current regulations permit the solidification and stabilization of PCB contaminants.

Panel members then questioned the members on the cap's proposed compressive strength and if there's concern it will crumble over time; and if the federal regulator is aware of suitable tests other than the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure(TCLP) test.

Environment Canada couldn't answer the panel's questions, adding some of their leading experts are out of the country. "Our time is running out said LaPierre. "Either we get that information, or it doesn't exist"

The panel was told that department staff "would do their very best" to answer the questions by midnight friday, the end of hearings.

Charles then asked if the department staff had any observations, or experience with synthetic liners, as proposed in the project. "Is it a problem, or are you happy with what you know about them," he asked.

The department said it's known the liners do degrade over time, but the extent of the deterioration isn't known. Regardless, the liner is an added protection. If it's breached, water would be captured by the site's collection system - considered by the department as a primary source of protection. They added any concerns the department has can be addressed as long as the agency is prepared to work with the department as the project progresses.

During Wednesday's hearing, panel members didn't ask if the department had concerns about burning PCBs at an incinerator. In fact, no one mentioned incineration during Environment Canada's session