Periodic monitoring isn't sufficient

Unedited Letter to the editor from Debbie Ouellette
Sat., July 10, 2004

In Parker Donham’s letter to the editor on June 26, he admits that the air monitoring program developed for the Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens cleanup needs improvement, after naphthalene from the Domtar tank leaked into the surrounding air on May 27. We were not told of this problem until 11 days later. Parker said that the air monitoring system for ensuring the safety of the community works. Now he admits it needs a thorough review.

Parker makes it sound like these real-time hand-held devices pick up instant readings all the time. They don’t. They are only turned on now and then. I was led to believe stationary air monitors, which are turned on once every 6 days, were only a back-up for these hand held devices. Now it turns out that the stationary monitors are all that we have to depend on.

Parker said real-time spot checks with these hand held devices did not reveal a problem on May 27. Why? Because they were not on most of the time. How many times were they turned on during working hours and for how long? What were the wind conditions and what kind of work was carried out during the time these devices were on? Where’s the data?

Real time monitors are the only protection we have when the stationary monitors are off, which is most of the time, yet real time monitors measure fewer chemicals than the stationary monitors and are only turned on now and then. We should be provided with the list of chemicals that are not being measured every day with hand held monitoring but that are being monitored once every 6 days by the stationary monitors.

I know how real-time hand held monitoring works. I videotaped an oil tank being removed from a contaminated property on Hankard Street. The real time hand held monitor looked really nice hanging from the fence turned off.

During working hours on the Coke Ovens these stationary monitors and hand held monitors should be on all the time recording emissions coming from the Domtar tank or whatever work they are doing on the site. Spot checks mean nothing. Right now we have no real protection.

Air monitors should be placed on homes in Ashby, the Northend and Whitney Pier, and turned on at all times when work of any kind is taking place on the coke ovens and Tar Ponds.

When the smells in the air were so unbearable last week Parker should have used common sense and got off his piles {of money} and had someone turn these stationary air monitors on. If Parker had any concerns for the health and safety of residents in all areas of these sites, they should have been turned on. Why weren’t they turned on? What were the smells coming off the Tar Ponds? We have no way of knowing.

I checked the stationary monitor by the Tar Ponds on those days when the smells were at its worst and the monitors weren’t turned on. At night for some reason the smells seem to be much worse, but it’s not being monitored.

Parker says they see this is as an opportunity to refine and improve all these systems. My first thought would be before any contractor or consultant signs their name to the dotted line, these systems should already be refined. All projects and emergency plans should be in place first, with red zones outside the fenced areas where residents living near or by these toxic sites should be given the choice to be compensated or moved.

We are certainly going to be in big trouble if they choose to dig and remove sludge from the Tar Ponds if they can't control emissions from an enclosed cover on the Domtar Tank, which is under negative pressure. All this and emissions still escaped.

I know all too well what naphthalene and coal tars smell like. We had black goo that reached Frederick Street which bubbled out of the ground outside the fenced in areas of the coke ovens site. When samples came back, naphthalene was measured at 9960 and the guidelines were 0.6. This level of naphthalene is 166,000 times greater than the CCME Canadian Health Guidelines. I have the list of the other 12 chemicals that came back high as well.

Parker says that naphthalene is a common household chemical found in mothballs and sold in Sydney stores. I called Sobeys , Super Store and Super Valu. Parker, they do not carry mothballs anymore. It's been taken off the shelf. How many boxes do you have in your home Parker? I lived here 20 years and never had any use for this poison. I am sure a great many residents don't use this product either.

How many more excuses can you make up for chemicals leaving the coke ovens site?

Parker says they take their responsibility to control chemical emissions seriously and yet Parker can get on Talkback and say there will be exceedences from time to time. Only when residents complained of the smells did they react. Then a week later they got the analysis results. Then three days later they decided to tell us.

That's the plan to keep all info in the Sydney Tar Ponds office. All data, the way government sees it, should be made available to us. The results of the data from the air monitors should be posted for the public showing days, times and weather conditions.

A Consultant’s first priority is to protect the workers inside the fenced-in areas of the Coke Ovens, but who protects the residents? Residents can have the same symptoms like nausea, dizziness, excessive fatigue, difficulty breathing and so on. If these symptoms occur for workers, they are told to leave the work area immediately. Who tells the residents when there’s a problem?

These chemicals have many side affects and we are feeling the affects of these smells in the air. When we can't sit out day or night and enjoy the few days of sun we get and can't open our windows at night to get “fresh air”. When are you going to follow the Clean Air Act? And when does the polluter pay? Soon I hope.

Debbie Ouellette
Mechanic Street, Sydney