Hankard St. families still waiting for government to remediate properties

By Tanya Collier MacDonald
Cape Breton Post
Monday, June 28, 2003

Three Whitney Pier families fear government will renege on their promise to clean up their properties, which soil tests suggest are contaminated enough to harm their health.

"I want an end to it. It's been long enough," Rick Chisholm told the Cape Breton Post Friday. The father of two children was also speaking on behalf of his parents who live next door and elderly neighbours. The three homes are situated within feet of each other on Hankard Street, which borders Sydney's coke ovens site.

In 2001, Chisholm's property was found to have high amounts of arsenic, lead, total PAH, hydrocarbons and manganese and that the levels exceeded human health guidelines.

Remediation was recommended for his property as well as 70 other properties found to have high levels of contamination. The testing was part of a chronic health risk assessment prepared by toxicologists and risk assessment experts from JDAC Environment Ltd.

In June 2002, the province sent a letter to Chisholm informing him that his property would be cleaned up and the government also outlined how the work would be done. The plan included digging up two feet of soil on the outside and replacing it with clean dirt and fresh sod. Inside, contaminated soil in his dirt basement would be dug out and replaced with new material. Venting pipes would be inserted to remove harmful vapours and the basement entrance on the inside of the house would be sealed off. A new entrance would be constructed on the home's exterior.

A short time later, Chisholm was told that plan wasn't possible. The province then recommended he obtain a minimum of two bids from contractors estimating the cost of raising the three homes as well as installing a new frost wall once the contaminated soil was removed.

Chisholm obliged. Estimates came in around $90,000 for each home. "Government said that was too much. But they remediated vacant lots throughout the community that have no children, no homes, nothing on them."

He noted that Frederick Street residents got a voluntary buyout from government in 1999 and since his home was recently appraised at $42,000, relocating him would be less expensive than raising his house and putting in a new cement slab. "But they don't want to set a precedent," said Chisholm.

While government continues to ponder the issue, Chisholm said his family's life is on hold. "I can't sell the house. I can't renovate it." When his two children, aged 8 and 14, ask if the contamination will make them sick, "I tell them I don't know. I just don't know."

There is also the question of whether or not governments are capable of tackling the more complicated and larger issue Chisholm can see from his front window. "If they can't remediate three residential properties, how are they going to remediate the tar ponds and the coke ovens?" Parker Donham, a provincial spokesperson, said Chisholm's problem is "complex." But, government has worked hard to find a solution, he said.

"We're continuing to work to find a solution. We're confident we will find a solution. It has regrettably taken longer than any of us have hoped because it's such a complicated situation."