Cleanup technologies all got a fair look

Progress has come in both established and emerging methods

Letter to the editor from David Darrow
Cape Breton Post Weekend Feedback
Sat., Sept. 25, 2004

Colin Isaacs is correct that technologies for cleaning up contaminated sites have made great strides in the last 20 years (Sydney Cleanup Could Be Showcase, Letters, Sept. 18).

This is true of both traditional methods like incineration, and of emerging technologies. We can say this with confidence because the tar ponds cleanup partners went to great lengths to seek out and evaluate available cleanup technologies.

A consortium of experienced environmental engineering firms carried out a survey of remediation technologies. Another engineering firm conducted a program that tested various cleanup techniques on sample batches of tar ponds sediments.

As an resident of Ontario, Mr. Isaacs may not be aware that the Joint Action Group carried out the most extensive public consultation on an environmental cleanup ever held in Canada.

Over six years, JAG held more than 900 public meetings, every one of them open to the press and the public. This included 86 two- to three-hour workshops at which technical experts presented cleanup options in plain language, and more than 1,700 participants filled out detailed workbooks expressing their preferences.

Evaluation criteria, developed in consultation with the public, included potential health and environmental impacts, technology track records, potential project risks, economic and social benefits, and costs.

Not everyone will agree with the cleanup methods we have chosen, but most will concede that our review of available technologies was thorough, objective, and transparent.

Mr. Isaacs supports hydrogen reduction, the technology favoured by the Sierra Club of Canada. Unfortunately, Eli Eco Logic, the company that developed and promoted this promising technology, declined to take part in our technology demonstration program on the terms accepted by all other participants.

Despite this, and contrary to statements by the Sierra Club, we did not overlook EcoLogic in our review of cleanup options.

Our consulting engineers studied the technology carefully and determined that hydrogen reduction had been used in only two, small-scale commercial applications since its inception in the 1990s.

It had treated a total of just 3,000 tonnes of contaminated material in its entire history, compared to 1.2 million tonnes on our sites.

The technology is technically complex, requiring that a long chain of components all perform properly. It has undergone several modifications to fix performance problems since its inception 10 years ago.

And, contrary to the Sierra Club's misleading claims, it is not a "closed loop" or "zero emissions" system. Even former Eli Eco Logic officials acknowledged this fact, yet representatives of the Sierra Club continue to misrepresent it otherwise. Indeed, the process has a stack that releases emissions from its final combustion stage.

During the JAG process, residents of Sydney made it clear they wanted only proven technologies used in the cleanup.

Our engineers concluded that it would be too risky to rely on a complex process with such a limited track record as our primary technology. And in fact Eli Eco Logic ceased operations some two weeks ago because of financial difficulties.

We have made prudent, sensible technology choices, employing cleanup methods that have proven safe and effective at many similar sites.

The Sydney Tar Ponds Agency is now focused on moving the cleanup forward. We expect to file key project documents with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency next month, and to begin work on preliminary cleanup projects as early as next spring.

People in Sydney have told us that the project has been debated enough and that the time has come to get on with the job. That is precisely what we are planning to do.

David Darrow is chief executive officer of
Sydney Tar Ponds Agency.