Sludge contained in storage tank on coke ovens site destroyed

By Wes Stewart
Cape Breton Post
Wed., Nov. 29, 2006

Sydney - Coal tar sludge from a storage tank on the former coke ovens site off Victoria Road has been destroyed.

Clean Harbors Canada, the Corunna, Ont. company hired to remove the contents from the tank, notified Sydney Tar Ponds Agency the material was destroyed at two Clean Harbors incinerators in the United States. "Getting rid of the contents was a long ordeal for the contractor," said agency spokesperson Parker Donham.

"We allowed people to make such outrageous overstatements about Sydney's environmental problems that we introduced an element of fear into cleanup decisions that has very severely limited our options."

It's the final chapter in the disposal of the hardened mixture of coal tar, sand and gravel from the bottom of the tank, earlier rejected by four hazardous waste disposal facilities.

The sludge was stored awaiting disposal in 88 specially-designed rail containers after it was removed from the tank.

The highly-visible, open-top tank was dismantled in mid-2005 and found to contain about one million litres of rainwater, treated locally, 3,000 tonnes of coal tar and a small amount of fabricated sand and oil mixture used in test burns of an incinerator in the 1990s cleanup efforts.

About half the coal tar was destroyed at a Clean Harbors incinerator in Quebec, the remaining 2,000 tonnes of hardened bottom-of-the-tank material was disposed at incinerators in Aragonite, Utah and Kimball, Neb.

Clean Harbors has supplied the agency with certificates of destruction verifying its safe disposal.

Donham said the coal tar was absolutely ordinary, it can be purchased as driveway sealant.

The contractor disposed of far more dangerous substances than what was contained in the Domtar tank, but "what they hadn't counted on was that it had the skull and crossbones that comes from being associated with Sydney and the Sydney tar ponds." The notoriety excluded them from any Canadian facility which would erect obstacles exclusive to the tar ponds cleanup.

Donham doesn't think the public is in favour of the removal and destruction now that they realize it will involve incineration in or near Sydney. The other option is solidification and encapsulation. "I'm fine either way because we have only looked at safe, reliable, proven options."

Donham thinks there will be a government decision "very soon" on the cleanup method.