Monitoring falls short in ensuring air quality

By Marlene Kane
Cape Breton Post - Weekend Feedback
Saturday, June 19, 2004

Ray Fahey - Cape Breton Post
Despite the construction of an enclosure to contain contaminants during the cleaning of the Domtar tank on the coke ovens property, exterior monitors have detected one air quality problem that halted work. Have other problems gone undetected?

Parker Donham, Sydney Tar Ponds Agency spokesman, has been trying to assure us that we have nothing to be concerned about regarding the airborne release of naphthalene from the Domtar tank into the surrounding community He insists this chemical release exceeded guidelines only once, on May 27, but what proof has he of that?

The stationary monitor that detected this chemical on May 27 operates only once every six days. At that time, an air sample is gathered over a 24-hour period and then sent out-of-province for analysis. It takes almost a week for the results to be received by STPA.

For the five days before and the five days after this 24-hour sampling, there are no stationary monitors turned on, which means this May 27 exceedance could actually have begun days before or continued for days afterward without anyone knowing. Members of the community could certainly smell it for more than one day.

In addition to off-site stationary monitors, there are real-time air monitors used on site but they operate for only a fraction of the day, not continuously. The purpose of these monitors is to identify air quality problems instantly so that appropriate actions can be taken, such as an immediate work stoppage if there are emissions which exceed the guidelines.

This real-time monitoring, which we are assured is extensive, obviously failed to detect the airborne exceedance on May 27 or work would have been stopped that day rather than a week later.

Donham said that when the guidelines for naphthalene were exceeded, work on the project was halted. Work was not halted at the time of the exceedance because the agency didn't know about it until a week later, and then didn't notity the public for another three days.

So when Donham says this is an example of the system working correctly, he's way off base. If the system really was working correctly we would know about a chemical exceedance when it happens, not 11 days later. Real time monitors would detect the exceedance, allowing work to be shut down immediately, not days after the fact.

Contrary to what Donham says, the system for ensuring the safety of the community failed in this instance. How many other times has it failed that we don't know about?

That real-time monitoring didn't detect this naphthalene emission certainly makes me question the reliabiUty of that system.

After all, we are relying solely on intermittent, real-time monitoring for the five out of six days that the stationary monitors are turned off.

If the real-time system didn't detect this naphthalene exceedance, what day-to-day protection do we have?

Marlene Kane