Something smells about monitoring system

Letter to the editor from Bruno Marcocchio
Cape Breton Post
Tues., July 20, 2004

Parker Donham agrees with me that full-time, real-time monitoring would be good public relations - because, he says, it would show how much better our air quality is than most cities in Canada (Continuous Monitors Have Limitations, Letters, July 10).

He is misinformed, both about the limitations of the current monitoring and about full-time real-time monitoring.

I agree that the hand-held devices that never did detect a problem with naphthalene are of very limited value, especially since they are only operated for a few minutes each hour and are incapable of sensitive detection of dangerous chemicals.

The monitoring stations are designed to give an overview of air quality over a long time period. They work as well in Sydney at that task as they do in the other cities to look at smog.

They are not designed to measure acute exposures to intermittent spikes in dangerous chemicals like the naphthalene from the Domtar tank or other dangerous coal tars when the material is disturbed.

How does Donham expect us to believe that a monitor will detect acute chemical exposure when five days out of six there is no monitoring?

There are several systems of real-time full-time monitors that measure dozens of chemicals down to the parts per trillion range that naphthalene and other chemicals pose a risk at.

The most common of these is a Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer (TAGA) with a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FITR) device to gather air samples and analyze the pollution data in real-time.

Close to home, the Aroostook band of Mi'kmaq in northern Maine has a TAGA unit providing real-time measurements of air quality .

The real-time data can be accessed online anytime. This system would be able to protect humans from the acute exposures to risk that a cleanup will bring.

The system that Donham touts is not capable of that. Is he misinformed or reckless with our health and safety?

We plan to inform the medical officer in our community of the limitations of monitoring only intermittently and the dangers posed by this inadequate system.

We hope Dr. Charl Badenhorst, unlike Donham, puts public health and safety above political expediency.

In the meantime, perhaps Parker and I can work on an ecotourism plan for the region that can bring residents of Halifax and other cities to Intercolonial street this summer at low tide to let them experience first-hand how much better our air quality is than the air they are used to breathing.

We might be able to generate enough income to move residents with high lead and arsenic on their properties who have been ignored by Donham and the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency to date.

Bruno Marcocchio,
Sierra Club of Canada, Sydney