Agency ordered to better manage odours emitting from tar ponds

SYDNEY — The agency in charge of the tar ponds cleanup is working on its odour management plan and will meet the June 30 deadline set by the provincial Environment Department to better manage smells emanating from the site.

By Tom Ayers
Cape Breton Post
Thurs., Jun. 24, 2010

The department began receiving increased calls in April from area residents about strong odours coming from the work site, peaking at 10 calls in 10 days near the end of May.

The government regulator issued a three-part directive June 3 requiring the agency to enhance its odour management plan, upgrade air monitoring, which could include mobile equipment that can take air samples around civic addresses where complaints are made, and hold weekly meetings with the department and the contractor to address odour issues.

Sydney Tar Ponds Agency spokesperson Tanya Collier MacDonald said Wednesday that contractors working on the stabilization and solidification of the south tar pond are now using two kinds of foam to dampen odours as they mix tar pond sludge with cement. One foam is applied during mixing and the other creates a foam crust over top of the mixture to contain further smells. She also said mobile air monitors are "being considered" and that weekly meetings with the department began at the end of May. "There will always be odour from this site until the work is done," MacDonald said, adding the agency will work hard to manage the odours as much as possible. "We want people to be comfortable in their homes to the best that we can do during the construction period."

Terry MacPherson, senior manager with the Environment Department, said the air monitoring program works well, but the monitors are designed to watch for levels that are hazardous to health, and no health concerns have been noted. "The difference is you can smell these volatiles at a threshold much lower than what would be deemed a health risk," he said.

It is not known which chemical is causing odours, MacPherson added, but it is hoped the agency’s improvements will help determine that.

Meanwhile, people occasionally talk about the smell coming from the compost facility at the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s landfill site east of the tar ponds. However, the Environment Department has only received one formal complaint in the last year about the compost smell and facility supervisor Kent Lewis said only three formal complaints have been lodged there within the last year, with the last one made about three months ago. "As far as getting a lot of complaints, we really don’t," Lewis said.

The compost building contains most of the odour, Lewis said, "but if we’re moving material people will get a smell, but it usually settles down in an hour or so. "It is a nuisance odour, it’s not harmful," he added.