Review, studies confirm contamination goes beyond tar ponds: Sierra Club

By Tom Ayers
Cape Breton Post
Wed., Oct. 24, 2007

SYDNEY - The Sierra Club of Canada says two new studies and a review of a report prepared for the federal Health Department confirm that soil contamination extends beyond the tar ponds and coke oven sites and into residential areas.

Dr. Tim Lambert, manager of environmental health risk assessment for the Calgary Health Region and a volunteer researcher for the Sierra Club, released his findings to a dozen interested citizens at St. Patrick’s Museum, Wednesday.

He suggested people in Whitney Pier, Ashby and Sydney’s north end should take precautions with children, and said soil remediation should be considered for the communities as part of the $400 million federal/provincial cleanup of the tar ponds.

"I find it particularly tragic that for 10 per cent of the money on the table, we could remediate the community," the Sierra Club’s Bruno Marcocchio said. "For $40 or $50 million, we could take the remediation measures that Dr. Lambert talks about and truly clean up Sydney."

Lambert said his soil studies in the three communities surrounding the tar ponds and coke oven sites back up data found in a report prepared for Health Canada that was never released publicly.

Lambert’s soil samples show that contamination from lead, arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons exceed Canadian guidelines as much as three kilometres away from the pollution sources, which he said Health Canada knew in 2001. "We’re not disputing what Health Canada has to say, we’re just trying to bring this to light," he said.

Lambert also said the provincial medical officer of health concluded in 2004 that soil contamination is one of the least likely sources of ill health. But Lambert said his review found the conclusion was based on data gathered by a consulting firm that took soil comparative samples in contamination hot spots along rail lines in North Sydney, making Sydney’s contamination rates seem artificially acceptable. "Our analysis indicates soil contamination is the major source of human exposure to contaminants in Sydney," Lambert said.

The Sierra Club also jointly funded a community health survey in Whitney Pier, Ashby and the north end, which Lambert said shows that smoking, alcohol and diet are not factors in elevated cancer levels found in the communities. Instead, he concluded, the results of these studies suggest that historic pollution has contributed to cancer rates.

Lambert suggested that people living in those communities try to ensure children don’t eat soil found in their yards or playgrounds, wash their children’s hands frequently, and clean doorways and floors where children play.

He also said the tar ponds cleanup should include a plan to remove contaminated soil from the three communities within a three kilometre radius of the source and place it on the coke ovens site, which will be capped with clean soil as part of the cleanup.

"What Dr. Lambert proposes is really an elegant solution," said Marcocchio, adding it is not ideal, but it is practical.