Sydney safe place to live: health officials

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Sat., July 31, 2004

Sydney is a safe place to live say health officials who reviewed soil samples taken within a three-kilometre radius of the coke ovens site.

"We don't believe there is a health concern," said Dr. Jeff Scott, chief medical officer of health for Nova Scotia. "We're not recommending any actions."

Findings from the Sydney Urban Statistical Analysis Report were released Friday, three years after 194 samples were taken randomly throughout this community. Another 54 soil samples were taken from homeowners who requested soil testing.

The study was commissioned by Health Canada and recommended by Scott following a soil sampling program done immediately north of the coke ovens in 2001.

Those samples were used to support a chronic health risk assessment prepared by toxicologists and risk assessment experts from JDAC Environment Ltd. The experts gathered a thousand soil samples, site inspections and interviews with the owners of 124 properties neighbouring the coke ovens site.

It was determined that the area was safe to live in but remediation was recommended for 71 properties.

In the urban analysis report Friday, similar chemicals and concentrations were found in properties along Victoria Road and Railway Street in Whitney Pier and areas around the Sydney landfill. However, no remediation will be offered by government, said Scott.

The balance of the three-kilometre area sampled was found to be similar to North Sydney - the urban reference area selected for comparison.

Scott said there was no pattern to the chemical concentrations throughout the community and Sysco was cited as having only a small impact on the variation of soil chemistry. "I'm sure there were many exposures, including the plant itself," he said.

No further study of soil recommended

In August 1973, an official with Environment Canada provided a detailed and scientific analysis of the emissions at Sysco.

In a summary of the information, Sysco was described as producing steel from raw materials with an annual steel capacity of 1.1 million tonnes. At the time, due to no pollution control, the daily particulate emissions from Sysco were just under 109 tonnes per day.

In a response prepared by Scott and Dr. Charl Badenhorst, regional medical officer of health, five recommendations were made.

"Although the exposure to chemicals in soil is likely no different from exposure in similar urban communities in Nova Scotia, and recognizing that soil exposure is one of the least likely sources of harmful exposure to chemicals, the prudent public health approach is to minimize overall exposure to chemicals in soil," they said.

For example, any future residential development in Sydney should take into account findings in the soil sample reports. The Cape Breton District Health Authority should continue to develop and implement an exposure pathways education program so individuals will know how to safely dispose of chemical sources like ash, and how to limit future exposures, they said.

As well, because the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens site is expected to get underway soon, the remediation should be done in such a way that increased exposure to chemicals is prevented.

"Planning and the operation of on-site remediation should take into account the knowledge of the chemical analysis found off-site and use opportunities to reduce existing exposure where feasible," said Scott and Badenhorst. "Don't ignore the knowledge that's available."

No further study of soil concentrations were recommended unless the results are needed to define or monitor specific remediation activities. "Now we can focus on cleaning up the sites safely," said Scott.

A draft of the statistical analysis report has been in governments' hands since September 2002. In February 2003, a group of reviewers recommended further clarification before it was presented to the public.