Toxic sites not polluting berries, says expert

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Tues., Aug. 3, 2004

Sydney - Blueberries growing near Canada’s worst toxic waste site are safe to eat, says an independent expert hired to analyse the little morsels.

Dr. Beverly Hale, an eco-toxicologist from the University of Guelph, confirmed what Don Ferguson, a senior adviser for Health Canada, reported nearly a year ago. At that time, Ferguson said berries picked at Blueberry Hill off Lingan Road in Whitney Pier were safe to consume.

The final results released today by the provincial Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, state that the favourite picking spot grows berries just as safe as those found in North Sydney and supermarket samples of Ontario and Quebec berries.

There were some differences among the samples. The Whitney Pier berries had trace levels of selenium and zinc higher than the other berries. However, the supermarket berries had higher traces of thallium. Trace levels of arsenic, vanadium, lead, copper and molybdenum were similar in all samples. Chromium was not found in any of the berries selected. Two PAHs of minute quantities were found in a single unwashed berry from the Whitney Pier field. They were pyrene and flouranthene. No PAHs were found in any of the washed samples.

The Chemical Health Hazard Assessment Division of Health Canada’s Bureau of Chemical Safety carried out a human health risk assessment and found no risk to those who eat the berries. Using conservative assumptions, the risk assessors calculated that a potential health risk could occur if a person ate almost five pounds of blueberries every week for more than 70 years.

In the release, Dr. Charl Badenhorst said the report adds support to the conclusion that Sydney is a safe place to live. "The studies confirm that soil is one of the least likely pathways for harmful exposure to chemicals in the environment," said Badenhorst.

David Darrow, CEO of the provincial agency said that Sydney’s environmental problems are not unique. "Important as it is to clean up the tar ponds and coke ovens, and it’s vitally important, it’s equally important that people stop demonizing Sydney with exaggerated statements."