Sierra Club, Tar Ponds agency still at odds over cleanup

By Tanya Collier MacDonald
Cape Breton Post
Fri., Sept. 10, 2004

A provincial government agency and a national environmental advocacy group continue to quarrel over the planned cleanup of the tar ponds and coke ovens sites.

The Sierra Club of Canada said the cleanup methods proposed by the provincial government amount to nothing more than the same plan this community rejected in 1996.

"It's a coverup, not a cleanup," said Bruno Marcocchio, Atlantic Canada regional campaign director for the club.

Although the provincial government is still in the process of completing a detailed description of the work, it's expected that PCB-laden sludge in the tar ponds will be destroyed in a mobile incinerator. Then the ponds will be capped. The coke ovens sites will be remediated using similar methods.

"The rest of the world has moved past burn-and-bury," said Marcocchio. "The use of closed loop systems to destroy toxic substances is viable. Canadian companies have been in the lead developing these solutions that could actually destroy all of the toxic materials without emissions."

His words were echoed by the club's national spokesperson, Elizabeth May "It does nothing to remediate the contamination in backyards," she said. "It increases the risk of exposure to toxic substances in the adjacent neighbourhoods. And, what may be most distressing, is that it ignores the advanced techologies that could make the Sydney cleanup a model for the world."

Parker Donham, spokesperson for the provincial Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said the club's comments are wrong. "The Sierra Club is fighting yesterday's battles with yesterday's myths, " he said. "It's the same old tired rhetoric Elizabeth and Bruno have used to trash Sydney for the last 20 years. It's not just stale. It's demonstrably wrong."

Donham said the experimental technologies touted by Sierra Club are not what this community wants. "They want proved, safe methods and that's exactly what we've offered them," said Donham. "Elizabeth and Bruno are out of touch with public opinion in Sydney"

The Sierra Club continues to state that the only reason the PCB sludge will be incinerated instead of covered is because, under federal law, it's illegal to bury PCBs. "The result of the so-called cleanup will be that more than 90 per cent of the toxic waste will remain in the community" said May. "The burning of PCBs, meanwhile, increases the risk of airborne contamination with products of incomplete combustion, such as dioxins and furans."

The provincial and federal governments signed a memorandum of agreement in May that outlined support for the cleanup. Ottawa committed no more than $280 million and the provincial government agreed to no more than $120 million over the next 10 years.