Sydney woman pursuing tar ponds lawsuit

Cape Breton Post
Sept 18, 2015

While a proposed class-action lawsuit has been abandoned, a lone Sydney woman is moving forward with her suit against the federal and provincial governments over contamination from nearly a century of steelmaking.

Debbie Ouellette first filed her lawsuit in May 2004, and during a recent Supreme Court appearance was instructed to review her list of defendants and ensure each was properly served with notice of action. All sides in the suit are to return to court in October when Justice Patrick Murray will again review Ouellette’s claim. "I feel I have a case and can prove it," said Ouellette.

Ouellette claims that in addition to the federal and provincial governments, former operators of the steel plant in Sydney knew, or ought to have known, that the processes being used at the plant were spewing toxic contamination throughout the community. She claims underground water tables, surface water, the land and the air were all contaminated with a host of heavy metals and toxics from lead to arsenic to polychlorinated biphenyls.

Ouellette is a former resident of Frederick Street in the Whitney Pier who moved after high levels of arsenic were detected in her basement. She and her neighbours were reporting a strange orange goo that seeped into their basements. It is believed the goo had migrated from the nearby Domtar tank that was used to store waste products. However, the tank was never covered and exposed to the elements.

Among other things, Ouellette is alleging that former operators of the plant, including the provincial government, failed to properly study the problem and operated the facility in a poor manner.

The plant began operation in the early 1900s and was sold in 1967 to the province. Operations at the plant ceased in 2000.

Ouellette's suit does not attach a specific dollar figure for compensation. She never joined with the people who signed on to a proposed class-action suit over the contamination left behind by the plant.

While initially approved as a class-action suit, that ruling was overturned on appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear a further appeal on the part of the plaintiffs. As a result, a number of residents involved in the suit decided they could no longer proceed given the cost and complexities of such a case.

The former steel plant site and associated sites were remediated after a $400-million project undertaken by the provincial and federal governments.

Cape Breton Post Staff