Project requires full panel review;
MP should clarify position on incineration

By Marlene Kane
Cape Breton Post - Weekend Feedback
Saturday, June 5, 2004

It's hard to believe that we're virtually right back to where we started in the mid 80s and 90s regarding remediation options for the Tar ponds. Now instead of burn or bury, it's burn and bury.

While governments committed $400 million several weeks ago towards a "clean up" of the tar ponds and coke ovens sites, in this pre-federal election announcement, it sounds more like a cover-up. Although nothing definitive has been made public regarding a remediation plan, the proposed methods government is putting forward include incineration of 50,000 tonnes of PCB-contaminated sludge from the tar ponds and burying hundreds of thousands of tonnes of toxic sediments. That is not a clean-up.

Government propaganda and frivolous spending, unlike anything else surrounding this project, began without delay. Two hundred thousand expensive, made in Halifax, glossy postcards were mailed out before the deal had even been signed. One postcard touted the message, "Imagine what Sydney can be."

Remember when Sydney was famous for something other than pollution? For music and laughter and hospitality." I wasn't aware that it still wasn't famous for its music and hospitality, or that we'd lost our sense of humor.

The message on a different postcard was, "Let's get on with it." Citizens of this area have been pleading with government to "get on with it" for almost two decades.

Although government has stated they have proposed the right technology for the job, incineration of hazardous wastes, particularly those containing PCBs, is neither safe nor acceptable. We do not want to employ a technology, such as incineration, that will generate even more toxic by-products, such as dioxins and furans, to contaminate the air we breathe and the surrounding environment. Last fall, residents of the Northside, with the assistance of MP Mark Eyking, successfully opposed any notion of burning tar ponds sludge containing PAHs, PCBs and heavy metals at the Point Aconi power plant because of the potential impact on their community.

I was surprised that Eyking, while finding it unacceptable to burn hazardous wastes in his own community, would find it acceptable to burn hazardous wastes in this community.

In February of 2003, a work- book was presented to the community which outlined various options government and its consultants had chosen on ways to remediate the tar ponds and coke ovens sites. One of the options offered for the tar ponds was on-site incineration of 700,000 tonnes of sludge.

This despite the fact there is no where to locate a hazardous waste incinerator on-site without violating the siting requirements of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) guidelines - guidelines which government had assured us would be adhered to at a minimum. In spite of my repeated objections, government with the support of JAG, refused to remove on-site incineration as an option.

When government offers from the outset to violate the very guidelines which are meant to protect us, it doesn't leave me feeling confident that they'll act in our best interests or that they've learned anything from their past mistakes.

The federal government determined that a common factor in the past two failed attempts at cleaning up the tar ponds was that no community consultation had taken place. As a result, the Joint Action Group was formed in 1996, to determine what cleanup solutions would be acceptable to the community, for both the tar ponds and coke ovens site.

So while governments delayed the cleanup for another seven years through the JAG process, under the guise of community consultation, the motion JAG delivered to government in May 2003 on the preferred methods of remediating the sites, has been all but ignored.

JAG's recommendation, although not specific, called for the removal and destruction of all sediments in the tar ponds, not 6 per cent removal and 94 per cent burial, as government has decided.

The government wants to "get on with it" by fast tracking the environmental review process and avoiding a full panel review, which they insust will delay the project. During the past year that governments have spent bickering over a cost share agreement, this independent review could have been well underway, if not completed. As well, governments haven't even defined the project and may not do so until at least the fall. This project continues to face delays long before the environmental assessment stage.

While the government promises sensible, proven and safe technologies, they don't have a reputation for delivering that. We need look no further than the failed $60 million tar ponds incinerator, which after being maintained, but never used for the past 10 years, is now being scrapped because it wasn't designed to burn PCBs and it violates the CCME guidelines.

While we all want the big 'cleanup' to get underway sooner rather than later, we want it done properly this time. A full panel review would assist us in ensuring that governments don't take any shortcuts or use technologies that would further impact the health of this community. Examining human health impacts associated with all aspects of the proposed plan must be our first priority, and a full panel review will help us do that. Then we can "get on with it."

On the day of the announcement, Port Hawkesbury Mayor Billy Joe MacLean said Cape Breton as a whole has taken a hit over the years as the home of one of Canada's worst toxic waste sites, a title which he said may soon be retired. Regrettably, after the $400 million is spent on this proposed "cleanup", Cape Breton can still be referred to as the home to one of Canada's worst toxic waste sites because it will still be there, hidden under a golf course.

And while this proposed cover-up project is slated for completion by 2014, maintenance, along with air and water monitoring will continue for decades.

(Marlene Kane is a Sydney environmentalist)