Only full review can deliver promissed cleanup transparency

Cape Breton Post
Bruno Marcocchio - Comment Section (A6)
Monday, June 2, 2003

The Joint Action Group has passed a motion recommending cleanup options after seven years of deliberation. What a disappointment that there is nothing specific in the motion passed by JAG about what is to be done, where it will be done or how the human health of the surrounding community will be protected. A motion introduced by Vince Hall to comply with the CCME guidelines was not seconded by anyone around the table. These guidelines, at a minimum, were promised us as a community during cleanup. No one left at the JAG table, save Vince Hall, speaks for the community. What a sad war of attrition the JAG exercise has been.

Last night the Federal Department of Health refused to fund the cohort study on coke ovens workers that has been promised for nearly a decade. The JAG motion, passed unanimously in 1997, to do a standardized test on residents for seven priority diseases, was never acted on. Without a commitment to these two studies we have asked for as a community the government continues to cover up the truth rather than document it once and for all.

JAG has failed to deliver on any of the promises made in 1996 by federal Minister Of Environment Marchi of an open transparent public process to find a solution to Canada's worst hazardous waste site. All questions of human health risk assessment, taking into consideration past exposure, as well as exposure during remediation have been ignored. Consultants, without public input, framed the choices that did not specify what technology or where it would be employed. They boil down to burn or bury, the same options government tried and we as a community rejected.

Co burning is a euphemism for an incinerator offsite. Despite no interest being shown by anyone to burn this toxic waste in an existing incinerator JAG continues to offer it as an option. Even federal MP Mark Eyking has concerns "My concern as a resident and as an MP, and as a farmer, is if it is going to be burned here, what effect will it have on the environment, the people and the air?". The answer Mr. Eyking, is it will be devastating. Dioxin contaminated vegetables and eggs are worthless and they will be contaminated within months of the start of burning PCB contaminated waste in a low temperature CFB incinerator.

JAG has turned four vague options over to government to decide on what is to be done and where. Seven years and seventy million dollars to come to no conclusion and to do nothing to protect resident's health during the cleanup. How ironic that to show JAG is necessary in the future, they are promoting the notion of protecting property values when they refuse to consider human health impacts. The seventy million dollars that they have wasted could have relocated a thousand families closest the site in a voluntary plan to protect human health.

The workbook process was designed without public input, to ask no specific questions, make no concrete proposals and come to no conclusion that would hinder government deciding what they wanted to do. We were promised real, transparent input. What we got was a sham process without real choices that set us up to take responsibility for bad decisions we had no part in making.

The Sierra Club of Canada has been asking that genuine promises of the federal government be honored. Ignoring human health impacts and ignoring safe effective options that have been proposed indicate that we are being compromised politically yet again.

Why would a safe, cost effective, alternative like thermal desorption/ hydrogen reduction be ignored for over two years now when both the US and Australian governments are encouraging the use of this technology as an alternative to incineration of hazardous waste? The environmental community and local residents supported the use of this technology by Canadian company, Eco Logic, in destroying chemical weapons in the US. It contains all residues, emits no pollution and destroys organic compounds completely. Both the PCB and PAH in the pond can be completely destroyed safely for the same price as option 3 in the same length of time. Why did negotiations end over two years ago with this company? All of the contents of the pond can be safely dealt with for the same price as the options proposed.

Why did JAG choose to ignore human health and instead employ expensive spin doctors and consultants to convince us instead that incinerating hazardous waste is not a health risk and is safe and reliable? It has not and will not be safe to incinerate hazardous waste anywhere in the world. Two Canadian incinerators at Swan Hills, Alberta and St. Ambroise, Quebec both have contaminated the surrounding community with deadly dioxin and furans within months of opening.

The Sierra Club of Canada has delivered a petition with over 3,000 signatures to our federal MP Mark Eyking for delivery to federal Environment Minister, Anderson requesting a full panel environmental assessment of the clean up options. This would provide the opportunity for transparent public input that was promised seven years ago. Dirty burning solutions are not acceptable anywhere, regardless of how much spin is employed to convince us it is safe and effective. It is neither.

A safe effective option exists that can bring all the benefits and none of the risk that a dirty incineration scheme will bring. We must work together to ensure that another unsafe, hasty backroom decision does not waste more money and precious time. Together we can do it right if we bring decision making out into the open and do the right thing for the right reason.

Bruno Marcocchio
Sierra Club of Canada