Operational glitches a fact of life for cleanup

Letter by Parker Donham
Cape Breton Post
Thur., Aug. 4, 2005

Your recital of events at the Domtar tank (Future Home of Domtaf Tank Goop Remains a Mystery, July 29) contained several factual errors and one major misconception.

At no time was naphthalene recorded in residential neighbourhoods at levels above, or even near, the strict standards in place for this project. Those standards are six times more stringent Ontario's. Two small exceedances occurred on the coke ovens site (although even these were well below the Ontario limits).

Two massive charcoal filters were in place from the outset of the Domtar removal project. They were not added part way through in response to naphthalene levels. As with any filters, the activated charcoal they contained had to be topped up or replaced from time to time. Naturally, work on the tank stopped while this was done.

The large fan that forced exhaust air from the containment building though these filters was never broken. A switch that controlled the fan's speed briefly failed to work at the highest setting, and was quickly replaced.

Removal work also stopped a few times during windy weather, not because excess levels were recorded but because it was impossible to maintain negative pressure inside the building during extreme winds. Maintaining negative pressure was a condition of the project's operating permit. Air filtration systems work best when air pressure inside the building is lower than pressure outside.

We set stringent safety procedures and low thresholds to ensure that our community is protected. Doing so means that work will stop long before a true threat exists. At one point, work at the Domtar tank stopped because exhaust from three pieces of construction equipment— a high hoe, a backhoe, and a Bob Cat — exceeded one of our highly precautionary standards.

Work stoppages like these show that our cautious approach is working as intended. To report them as failures is akin to reporting that a house is on fire every time burnt toast sets off a smoke alarm.

As we approach the big cleanup, our community needs to understand that operational issues arise during any major project. We cannot clean up a century of pollution without producing odours, noises, muddy water, and truck traffic.

As work proceeds, there will be fans to adjust, loose pipes to tighten, broken hoses to replace. These are normal events that occur on any project involving workers and equipment. We can strive to keep them to a minimum, but they will happen.

Parker Donham communications consultant,
Sydney Tar Ponds Agency