Bring in real time monitors

Air testing plan has too many gaps

Letter to the editor from Bruno Marcocchio
Cape Breton Post - Weekend Feedback
Saturday, July 3, 2004

Parker Donham acknowledges some of the shortcomings in the monitoring of naphthalene that recently escaped from the Domtar tank demolition (Weekend Feedback: Air Quality Protection Under full Review, June 26).

Although it is a step in the right direction from his previous claim that the handling of the high readings was proof the system was working, many serious questions remain.

Donham's cavalier attempts at minimizing the dangers of exposure to naphthalene speak to the denial that continues to define the Sydney Tar Pond Agency's approach to protecting human health.

Naphthalene is a human carcinogen according to the California Environmental Protection Agency. It has serious impacts on human health at very low doses (10 parts per billion). At higher doses it has killed people with acute symptoms.

Denial, delay and weak excuses, not protection for our families, are what we can continue to expect from Donham and the agency.

The tar ponds agency has not addressed the problems that resulted in an 11-day lag between high readings and public notification. To feel we are being protected we need real time, full-time monitors which can be purchased for less than $50,000 apiece. The results can be viewed in real time on a dedicated Internet site. This would have provided meaningful information to residents who complained of strange new odours for several weeks before the intermittent monitors showed high levels.

The agency, not Nova Scotia Environment and Labour, compiles and monitors the data. Why are we letting the proponent be in charge of monitoring? This leads to distortions of the truth and spin.

The hand-held monitors that are operated for perhaps five or 10 minutes an hour never did detect any problems. Even Donham acknowledges they are of limited value. They are in fact virtually useless except for the spin that the agency employs to convince us that they offer protection. This insensitive, limited monitoring for a few minutes an hour should be scrapped.

The fixed monitors that did note the exceedence operate for only one day in six. In addition they are not sensitive enough to measure the particulates less than 20 microns that are the most dangerous to inhale. Operating only one day a week means high readings may go undetected for six days. The additional 10 days it took to notify the public means that it may take two weeks after a problem before we are informed. This is not adequate.

Full-time, real time monitoring is affordable, effective, and protective of human health, and it would empower us as a community to view in real time any problems that arise during the cleanup.

Considering the dangers inherent in disturbing the ponds, failing to empower and protect the community is inexcusable. Leaving the proponent in charge without oversight by either regulators or the affected community is not acceptable. We need democratic access in real time to data, not more spin and disinformation weeks after the fact.

Unfortunately, it seems both the public and the media, and even regulators, are being systematicaliy denied access to timely information vital to our interests. We must demand to be informed and empowered. Letting the agency gather the data, spin it, and deny dangerous exceedences amounts to callous, willful neglect.

We must not allow to be repeated the denial and contempt for human health that in the past have resulted in elevated diseases rates and birth defects. There is no excuse this time. Human health and real time access to good data must be primary.

Bruno Marcocchio