Toxic soil boundaries expanded, says official

Soil taken three kilometres from coke ovens contaminated;
no date for release of report

Cape Breton Post
Saturday, April 5, 2003

Soil samples taken within a three kilometre radius of Canada's worst industrial toxic waste site are comparable to results taken immediately north of the coke ovens, says a Health Canada official.

Paul Moore, project manager of the Sydney Tar Ponds for Health Canada, said results from the 250 soil samples "is consistent with what you found in NOCO (North of the Coke Ovens). You have your lead, arsenic, PAHs. That's your typical urban material."

In April 2001, properties on six streets neighbouring the coke ovens site were confirmed to be contaminated with a shopping list of toxic chemicals surpassing accepted guidelines. The chemicals included arsenic, lead, toluene, PAHs, benzene, thallium and chromium.

The results prompted government to perform biological testing and a chronic health risk assessment for the residents. The assessment has since concluded it's safe for residents to live next to the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens site.

Since that time, government has offered voluntary remediation for NOCO residents found to have the excessive levels of contaminants in their soil.

As to whether or not contaminated properties within the three kilometre radius will be given the same offer, Moore said "we'll have to wait and see what comes out in the report. The remediation action taken in NOCO was not based on any risk to health. It was based on a commitment to the community to respond to the recommendations made by the risk assessors."

A draft of the Sydney Urban Area Statistical Report has been in government's hands since September of 2002, and has been tossed back and forth in a peer review exercise since that time.

"The final peer review comments didn't come back until December 2002. One of the realities of a report like this is that statistical analysis is tough stuff to get through."

The draft report isn't actually that thick, said Moore.

"But the supporting work that goes in behind it is quite detailed."

In February, a group of reviewers recommended further clarification before it was presented to the public.

"We're always interested in improving the quality of the project."

It will take at least another week before government knows how much longer the public will have to wait before getting their results.

Moore did add that nothing has shown up in the study that "has prompted anybody to say that immediate action has to be taken."

The coke ovens site consists of 60 hectares of highly contaminated land resulting from nearly a century of steelmaking.