Agency seeks ways to keep public informed

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Wed., June 23, 2004

The Sydney Tar Ponds Agency is trying to find new ways of keeping in touch with this community after it was criticized for not informing the public fast enough about a naphthalene leak from the coke ovens site in May.

"We didn't have an organized system," said Parker Donham, spokesperson for the agency. Now all procedures and protocols are being reviewed so staff can recognize the magnitudes of some situations more quickly.

Donham said the agency received several complaints in late May from residents worried about a strange smell coming from the site. A few weeks later, the agency reported unacceptable levels of naphthalene were emitted during work at the Domtar tank.

The delay angered some residents who then decided to demonstrate at a provincial Environment Department office in Sydney soon after hearing the news.

Donham said the agency now views the incident "as an opportunity to learn about our system and make it better." The contractor, Clean Harbors Canada Inc., is also making changes. Donham said the charcoal in a filter was not working to its capacity has been replaced as well as a faulty switch that prevented a fan from operating at its potential speed. Workers have also sealed any holes that might have compromised the containment structure built over the tank, said Donham.

The air handling system was tested and it was learned that flow rates were occurring well below their designed capacity. The rates are now higher and more air is being drawn through the system at a faster rate. It was also ensured that the air pressure inside the structure is operating at a negative pressure and air sampling above the stacks are acceptable. "We believe we rectified the various elements that led to the exceedance," said Donham.

The cleanup at the site has stopped and work won't begin again until the agency and the provincial Environment Department are confident all matters have been addressed appropriately, said Donham. "I don't have a date or time period."

On the United States Environmental Protection Agency Web site, it's noted that short-term exposure to naphthalene through inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact is associated with hemolytic anemia, liver damage and neurological damage. Cataracts have also been reported in workers acutely exposed to naphthalene by inhalation and ingestion.

Hemolytic anemai has been reported in infants born to mothers who sniffed and ingested naphthalene (as mothballs) during pregnancy. Available data is inadequate to establish a casual relationship between exposure to naphthalene and cancer in humans although the EPA has classified the chemical as a possible human carcinogen. Air quality standards enforced throughout the tar ponds and coke ovens cleanup project to date are designed to detect problems early, before harmfull effects occur, Donham has said.