Timothy Lambert, Submission Brief To The Full Panel Review: Comment on the Environmental Impact Statement and Recommendations

The EIS says: “This project has two primary objectives. The first is to reduce the current ecological and health risk from existing soils, sediments and water contamination.” (EIS, volume 1, section 2.1.4, p. 2-3).

The EIS says: “The second objective of the Project is to enhance the development potential and investment climate in CBRM and to provide social benefits for CBRM as a whole. The tar ponds have created a stigma for Sydney which has acted as a serious impediment to the attraction of new business opportunities to the municipality. Remediation efforts are expected to result in considerable qualitative and tangible socio-economic benefits. These benefits will include, in the short-term, the transformation of unused vacant lands near the centre of Sydney to an area suitable for passive and active recreation, commercial development, or light industrial land uses. It is anticipated that the remediated lands will enhance the overall aesthetics of the urban landscape and stimulate renewed conviction in Sydney as a place to invest and grow commercial enterprise” (EIS, volume 1, section 2.1.4, p. 2-5).

The scope of the Environmental Impact Assessment and Factors to be considered in the review are presented in Appendix A of the EIS guidelines. In the summary the relevant aspects from these guidelines will be noted.

The following is an outline of the points that will be covered.

Summary of Key Deficiencies.

1.   The tar ponds remedial plan needs to consider the original tidal estuary in order to prevent further migration of the contaminants into the harbour which have significantly impacted the fishing industry and the harbour creatures (see attached Figure 1). An aerial photograph from the 1930s also shows the mouth of the Muggah creek estuary is very broad (see attached Figure 2, 1930 Muggah Estuary). Acres (1990) stated that the northeastern portion of the north pond stated: “the contaminated sediment underlying this area potentially extends under the entire slag dump to the Steel Mill complex” (Acres 1990, p. 18). Acres (1990) estimated the contaminated sediment is 1 to 2 m thick in this area. Acres stated: “the very permeable nature of the slag would indicate the water level in the slag would closely follow tide level” (Acres 1990, p. 8). Acres (1990) also indicated that “lateral displacement of the tar pond materials by dumping of fill is thought not to occur” (Acres 1990, p. 10). The EIS has not considered the contaminants which are presence of contaminants which have migrated up washbrook, or south of the Muggah estuary. An aerial photograph from the 1950s clearly shows a contaminant pool in washbrook (see attached Figure 3, 1950s Muggah Estuary). The EIS is deficient in not considering the contaminants beneath the slag pile, and the migration of contaminants up the creek south of the tar ponds, both of which will be potential sources of contamination into the harbour, and may cause further environmental impacts.

2.   The tar ponds have not been appropriately delineated for PCB hotspots (>50 ppm PCB) (see attached report, Acres 1992, Figure 4 PCB delineation grid). Only the northeastern portion of the south pond has been delineated with grid sampling. The north pond has only been subject to random sampling. Therefore there is significant uncertainty with amount and areas of PCB contamination in the tar ponds. This is a significant deficiency of the EIS.

3.   The coke ovens remedial plan has not considered future land use. As stated and recommended by JDAC (2002), consistent with the normal procedure for remediation of contaminated sites: “Remediation actions should be limited to those that will be focused on, supportive of, and consistent with the future land use to be designated. For each distinct area of the site on a global basis, remediation should not be undertaken until future land uses are selected” (JDAC 2002, Executive Summary, Recommendation 3, p. 9). The coke ovens site will require further remedial actions after the proposed remedial actions in the EIS are completed, in order to develop the lands for any purpose. The EIS remedial actions will also not bring the coke ovens lands to a state where it can be used for open green space or parkland. Under the proposed remediation in the EIS, these lands should be required to restrict public access and thus serve no purpose to the community. Therefore, in both respects, the remedial actions proposed in the EIS for the coke ovens will not add to the economic development of Sydney or removal of the stigma of Sydney as a contaminated community.

4.   The EIS has completely ignored the spatially continuous contamination from the industrial sites into the residential communities bordering the sites which has been documented with Government scientific studies for at least 50 years and is consistent with the community local knowledge of the contamination offsite. The local knowledge of the community impacts from the steel and coke plant, and the historical government reports of contamination off-site are reported by Lambert et. al. (2006, the paper is attached). Furimsky (2002) also reported that the steel and coke plant deposited ~ 15 cm layer of contamination on the adjacent communities (see attached paper). JDAC (2001) documented contamination in the residential community NOCO, north of the coke ovens site. Health Canada reported that the contamination from the site extends for approximately 3 km (MacDonald 2003). and which is well known ‘local knowledge’ in the Sydney community. Lambert and Lane (2004) showed the contaminants in the communities adjacent the coke ovens site and tar ponds exceed the CCME residential soil quality guidelines, and showed that the contaminants are entering the residential homes where they pose a risk to young children (see attached for details). Lambert and Lane (2004) also used Health Canada’s soil quality data. Lambert and Lane (2004) presented data that suggest the contaminants are migrating in groundwater or tidal flows into northend Sydney. In addition, unpublished data of Health Canada and Lambert (2006) indicate the presence of contaminants in sumps in both NOCO and northend Sydney, and gross contamination in basements in NOCO. Lambert (2006, attached) has also compared data from all of Sydney with the background sampling data. This data is relevant to the review by the panel, appendix A, part III, item k, “the temporal and spatial boundaries of the study areas”. The spatial boundaries of the study areas ignores the continuous nature of the contamination and the responsibility of the government parties for care and control of this contamination. Under the guidelines of the EIS, this should also have been considered in the “location of the proposed undertaking and the nature and sensitivity of the surrounding area” (EIS guidelines, appendix A, part III, point e).

5.   The EIS failed to consider the historical exposure of the public and the public health impacts on the community. Health research in Sydney, Nova Scotia, has found an increase in cancer incidence (Guernsey et al. 2000), cancer mortality (Health Canada 1999, Band et al. 2003) and congenital anomalies (Dodds and Seviour 2001) with respect to the rest of Nova Scotia and Canada. Adolescents living near the tar ponds have expressed environmental and health related concerns about themselves and their families (Covell and O'Leary 2002). The failure to consider the historic impacts on the population in the EIS is a significant deficiency. Under the guidelines of the EIS, this should also have been considered in the “location of the proposed undertaking and the nature and sensitivity of the surrounding area” (EIS guidelines, appendix A, part III, point e).


6.   The economic benefits evaluation in the EIS ignored the presence of contamination in the residential communities. The review panel should carefully consider the question: Why would a business invest in a community, where its employees would need to purchase lands contaminated above Canadian CCME soil quality guidelines to live and raise their children? The following was stated as a “lesson learned”, in ‘Sydney ‘an urban study’: “Modern firms cannot be expected to develop new industrial plants in a deteriorated environment merely because their operation could be run economically. An abundance of low cost labour and attractive financial housing are not enough” (Harvey, 1971, p. 83). The lack of any plan for the care and control of the contamination in the residential communities, nor any responsibility for care and control by the responsible parties, will significantly inhibit the economic development of Sydney and the public image of Sydney as a contaminated community. Thus the EIS is seriously deficient in meeting both stated objectives of the EIS.

7.   The EIS relies upon Site Specific Target Levels (SSTLs) for the development of remedial actions, and these were discussed by JDAC (2002). The SSTLs were developed through comparison with soil quality in North Sydney. There is no discussion in the EIS or the background documents (JDAC 2002) of the applicability of the sampling program in North Sydney as a reference community, and its adherence to guidelines in developing a reference community. The sample locations in North Sydney closely follow the rail line, 10 of 15 samples are within 250 m of the rail line, and one sample is just outside 250 m (see attached Figure 5). In addition, several samples are also influenced by the Angel steel foundary, a significant point source. Thus the sampling program is not representative of North Sydney, and of no value in developing SSTLs or an ‘urban reference community’.


8.   The Government of Canada and Province of Nova Scotia have broken the trust generated in the community with respect to application of the CCME guidelines as a minimum, and that any additional guidelines would be stricter, which were committed to the community by two Federal Ministers, and secondly in completely ignoring the community recommendations with respect to remediation of the tar ponds and coke ovens, JAG option 3. This significant ethical breach will further exasperate the negative stigma of Sydney as a community, in particular in the context of the contamination left in the community, the contamination left on the coke ovens site and in the tar ponds, the installation of another incinerator in Sydney after the initial failed incineration project and the recent removal of the municipal incinerator, and the significant concern of failure raised by many residents and experts with respect to the remedial plan for the tar ponds, SSDS.

9.   The EIS is completely devoid of any comment of the risks and costs associated with a failure of SSDS. The basic remedial concept in the EIS is filling the tar ponds with cement. If the SSDS fails, as was shown in the demonstration of the technology, how much will it cost to remove the amalgamation of contaminated sediment and cement, and treat the mixture such that it can be handled in a responsible manner? The lack of a contingency plan is a significant limitation of the risk management plan in the EIS.

Recommendations to the panel

1.   Remedial Activities in Residential Communities

The greatest public health risks from existing contamination lie in the residential communities. The contamination in the residential communities also serves as a significant barrier to the redevelopment of Sydney. The panel should recommend the EIS develop a plan for care and control of this contamination and the potential future migration of contamination into the communities.


The panel should recommend the relocation of residents in close proximity to the coke ovens site and tar ponds. This is not a new concept for Sydney. As part of Sydney’s urban renewal, Sales (1960) recommended that an area, slightly larger than the area designated by JDAC as ‘north of the coke ovens’ NOCO, as a clearance area. Sales (1960) stated: “It is held that when this area is cleared it has no economic reuse because topographically the locality is low lying and because it is subject to the full impact of the injurious effects of the steel mills. The only purpose that such land could properly fulfill is that of a buffer to protect the remaining residential area from further deterioration by the steel mills” (Sales, 1960, p. 58, see attached Figure 6).


In 1974, the neighborhood improvement plan (NIP), for Sydney stated: “The major problem of the lower Ward V area, familiarly known as the ‘coke ovens’ is its proximity to the Steel Plant. Residents are plagued with heavy coal dust fallout, high levels of noise pollution, and coping with industrial waste. It is the intention of the Municipality to try to clear that portion of Frederick street to the right, to provide a buffer zone on the Heavy Industrial zoning.” (Municipality of the City of Sydney, Neighborhood Improvement Program, Conceptual Plan Wards IV, V, and VI, no page numbers are in the document).


In 1978, the revised conceptual plan, stated: “The municipality then began to purchase those properties located in what had been designated green space, zoned 0-2 (special use), and serving as a buffer zone on the industrial lands, directly adjacent to what is termed the ‘coke ovens’ area. It is the intention of the NIP office that this pursuit must be completed. As a result one of the first priorities of the revised conceptual plan for this area is the re-imbursement to relocated people for the cost of their land within the Open Space” (NIP, revised conceptual plan, 1978, p. 2).


The panel should recommend that the EIS consider the original recommendation from 1960, as this area has been shown to be adversely impacted by contamination from the coke ovens and steel plant.


The panel should recommend that the residential housing which intersects the coke ovens site and the tar ponds be relocated: Victoria Road, Richmond Road, and the homes on adjacent to the southwester corner of the coke ovens site, between Prince and Welton Street and the site. It is interesting to note that the 1902 development plan of Sydney did not consider the housing along Victoria and Richmond Road.


The panel should recommend that the residents in the residential housing adjacent the tar ponds in North End Sydney be relocated. In particular, the areas from the east end of Dorchester, along Intercolonial and down to Yorke St. It is also noteworthy that this housing is sandwiched among industrial land uses and the residential zoning is thus incompatible. This has been noted in previous development plans of Sydney.


In the residential properties in close proximity to the site, which exceed the PAH, arsenic and lead CCME’s health risk based soil quality guidelines for residential, appropriate remedial plans should be developed in conjunction with the residents.


All of the above areas have been shown to be subject to the full adverse impacts of the steel plant and coke ovens (Lambert and Lane 2004). The contamination is located primarily in the surficial soils. Remediation of these soils would be relatively cheap, and the soils could serve as a cap for the coke ovens site.


Following such a recommendation, the entire lands from the tar ponds to the coke ovens could be similarly zoned and mitigate future incompatible land uses, i.e., a mixture of residential and industrial land uses.


The remediation of these areas would serve to meet both objectives of the EIS, and in fact, it is unlikely that the EIS will meet the stated objectives without such recommendations.


2. The entire area of the coke ovens should be capped appropriately such that it can serve as parkland or green space for the surrounding residential communities. The land farming activity has no real purpose given the capping of the areas to be land farmed. Under the current EIS, the lands cannot be developed without additional remedial work, after the EIS remediation plan has been completed. Furthermore, it would be very costly to remediate the lands to an appropriate depth to facilitate servicing, i.e., at least 1.5 metres, with the one exception perhaps the southern portion of the coke ovens. In addition, pilings for building would create new pathways for migration of volatile contaminants by penetrating any cap which was placed on these lands, i.e., effectively destroying the cap.


3. With respect to the tar ponds, the Panel should recommend following the JAG recommendation #3. This will serve to reclaim the area to some degree. This will also serve the broader purpose of rebuilding public confidence in the regulatory process. In addition, a barrier wall should be constructed along the perimeter of the slag pile to prevent the further release of contaminants which are known to contaminate the estuary below the slag pile.


 4. The panel should recommend the creation of a technical, ethical and legal ‘ombudsperson team. This team would serve to oversee the remedial action plan and address resident concerns that arise with the remedial action plan and implementation. The problems with the regulators and the regulated being one and the same have been discussed in the literature with respect to Sydney. This committee would serve to mitigate future issues with the inherent conflict of interest of the government regulatory agencies.




Acres. Shoreline Investigation Report, Phase 2. 1990.


Acres. PCB contamination. Interim report. 1992.


Band P. Camus M. Henry J. Zielinski J. Jiang H. Semenciw R. Dewar R. Mortality rates within Sydney Nova Scotia, by exposure areas to airborne coke ovens and steel mill emissions: 1961-1988. Health Canada, Ottawa, Ontario. 2003.


Covell K. O'Leary J. 2002. The tar pond kids: toxic environments and adolescent well -being. Can. J. Beh. Sci. 34: 34-43.


Dodds L. Seviour R. 2001. Congenital anomalies and other birth outcomes among infants born to women living near a hazardous waste site in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Can J Public Health 92:331-334.


Furimsky E. 2002. Sydney Tar Ponds: Some problems in quantifying toxic waste. Environ Man 30: 872-879.


Guernsey JR. Dewar R. Weerasinghe S. Kirkland S. Veugelers PJ. 2000. Incidence of Cancer in Sydney and Cape Breton County, Nova Scotia 1979-1997. Can J Public Health 191; 4:285-292.


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Lambert TW. Lane S. Lead, arsenic, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in soil and house dust in the communities surrounding the Sydney, Nova Scotia, tar ponds. Environ Health Perspect 2004; 112: 35-41.


Lambert TW. Guyn L. Lane S. Development of local knowledge of environmental contamination in Sydney Nova Scotia: Environmental health practice from an environmental justice perspective. Science of the Total Environment. In Press. 2006.


Lambert TW. Unpublished data from Sydney. 2006.


MacDonald T. 2003. Toxic soil boundries expanded says official: Soil taken 3 km from coke oven contaminated. Cape Breton Post, Saturday April 5: 1.



Municipality of Sydney. Neighborhood Improvement Program. 1974.


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