Company touted by Sierra Club to dispose of tar ponds sludge out of business

By Steve MacInnis
Cape Breton Post
Wed., Sept. 1, 2004

A company touted by Sierra Club of Canada as employing one of the best technologies to clean up the highly toxic tar ponds has ceased operations.

But Elizabeth May, executive director of the club, says while the company may be out of business, the technology is still available and should be included among the cleanup options to be presented to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. "We are not prompting one company over another but we want to ensure that the technology used reduces health risks to the minimum," says May.

ELI Eco Logic Inc., of Ontario, announced last week it was ceasing operations, laying off its employees and selling its assets after deciding prospects for selling the troubled company or forming a joint venture looked bleak. The waste treatment firm will try to sell its technology after laying off all employees, except the chief financial officer, and search for a reverse-takeover candidate. The company had a loss of $1.2 million last year after selling its international subsidiary to Bennett Environmental for $1.25 million.

According to the company's Web site, it had developed a broad-based, robust technology for the treatment of hazardous wastes. The company's process is described as an alternative to incineration.

Frank Potter, director of operations for the provincially run Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, says that while officials with the cleanup did meet with reps from Eco Logic, the company was not considered to be in the running when it came to cleaning up the tar ponds. "They were a promising Canadian company but we felt they didn't have the experience for a project this size. They were never a contender," he says.

Type of technology still not determined

But just who will get the contract for the cleanup and what technology will be used still continues to a hot subject for debate.

The tar ponds and associated sites were contaminated with a host of hazardous wastes stemming from nearly a century of steelmaking.

Potter says his agency is now preparing a detailed project outline for CEAA which is expected to be completed by mid-October. That outline will examine primarily two technologies - incineration and thermal absorption.

"We are certainly pushing non-incineration technologies and I am genuinely baffled by the province's position of using incineration," says May, who rejects using incineration in the middle of a heavily populated area.

With the federal and provincial governments committing to $400 million for the cleanup, May says that amount will buy the top of the line cleanup plan rather than the burn and bury plan being pushed by the province.

Potter says the government wants proven technologies and notes that any cleanup effort directly attacking the tar ponds is still at least two years away.

Meanwhile, MPs Mark Eyking and Rodger Cuzner met in Sydney with various community representatives to discuss the cleanup. Among those attending the meeting were reps from the chamber of commerce, University College of Cape Breton and labour unions. "These are vested groups in the community who want to be plugged in to what is happening," says Ekying, in offering his assessment of the meeting.

He says among the main points he took from the discussions was that the community does not want to see the cleanup derailed or stalled and issues surrounding health concerns during a cleanup are of paramount concern.

Eyking says the concerns will be brought to the attention of the federal ministers involved in the project - Environment and Public Works - and that he and Cuzner will continue to provide updates on the project to the community.

Yet another main source for debate is whether there will be a comprehensive review of the project or a convening of a full panel review by CEAA.

May says her group wants a panel review while the province appears to be leaning toward a comprehensive review. Potter estimates that both could take about 18 months to complete.