Contaminated equipment blamed for toluene readings in Sydney

Letter to editor from Frank Potter
Cape Breton Post
Saturday, Oct. 11, 2003

As director of Sydney operations for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, I would like to clarify a few points arising from an October 7 article published in the Cape Breton Post headlined, "Air monitoring at sites now responsibility of Enviromnent Canada."

First, rigorous testing has confirmed that toluene is not present in unusual quantities in the air over Sydney. This testing shows conclusively that the intermittent high readings of toluene which appeared this summer on some air monitoring equipment resulted from equipment containination.
Second, as our project manager noted in an interview with the Post, our air monitoring consultant, AMEC Ltd., will continue to carry out most of our air monitoring program. AMEC is a highly reputable, professional firm with offices throughout North America (including Sydney), and extensive experience in air monitoring. AMEC has provided more than two years of monitoring service, and except for the recent toluene concern, its work continues to pass all quality control standards.

Sample contamination is not unusual in the highly refined tests required to detect volatile compounds like toluene, although in this case it has been difficult to identify the source. Third, rather than wait to pin down the source of the recent toluene contamination we have asked Environment Canada to assist with part of the air monitoring program on an interim basis. Environment Canada will supply canisters and carry out lab analysis required to test for the specific group of chemicals to which toluene belongs.

We have asked Environment Canada to do this work because it operates one of North America's premier labs for measuring the very low detection limits established for our air monitoring program.

This cautious approach reflects our determination to ensure the integrity of our extensive air monitoring program. We maintain six fixed monitoritig stations throughout Sydney, supplemented by a variety of portable air monitoring devices.

We check for well over 100 distinct airborne chemicals. Results of these tests are regularly posted on the Internet at (click on "quicklinks", then "air results"). With more than two years of air monitoring in hand, the data shows that air quality in Sydney compares favorably with that of other Canadian cities.

Frank Potter, P. Eng.
Sydney Tar Ponds Agency