i) August 17, 2009

Monitors don’t show what the nose knows

Cape Breton Post

Letter by Marlene KaneMon. Aug. 17, 2009

For a number of months now, the Sydney tar ponds have been disturbed while access roads are built inside the fence and while preparations are underway for the diversion of water out of the south ponds.

Area residents have been forced to contend with high levels of contaminated dust from this hazardous waste site and with strong odours during these and other activities.

Dust suppression measures obviously aren’t working because large amounts of dust are leaving the site.

The stench from the tar ponds has been very noticeable, but it was overpowering when I was in the area on Aug. 11 in the early afternoon. After a very short time, I started experiencing burning in my eyes, nose and throat.

I later checked the air monitoring reports for that day, posted on the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency website, which showed exactly what I expected: the air monitors detected absolutely nothing. Yet they are the only protection this community has.

Anyone walking by the tar ponds, smelling the stench and breathing in the dust, knows we already have a problem with fugitive air emissions from this preliminary work, regardless of what the air monitors say. And STPA, Earth Tech (AECOM), CRA and the others haven’t even started the big project, set to begin in October.

This will involve mixing more than 100,000 tonnes of cement powder and other materials into the ponds over the next five years. When this happens, not only will this community be exposed to toxic contaminants in the air when the work starts stirring up the tar ponds but we’ll be exposed to much higher levels of those contaminants when the cement powder is mixed in, like you would mix a cake batter.

The cement powder reacts with the sludge and causes an exothermic reaction, a heating of the sediments to very high temperatures, which will increase the off-gassing of contaminants even more. The air monitoring equipment may say the air quality is acceptable but when your eyes, nose and throat burn after being exposed for a short time, you know there is definitely a problem. It’s a bad sign when the workers inside the fence aren’t even required to wear any protective breathing apparatus.

Governments, the tar ponds agency and Earth Tech were told during the environmental assessment hearings that if they were going to proceed with this ridiculous plan of mixing the tar ponds sediments with cement powder and burying them instead of cleaning them up once and for all, they should do so only within enclosures (under negative pressure, with air filtration) to protect the residents to a greater degree from these fugitive emissions. Instead of complying with this small request to protect the community, they’d rather waste millions of our dollars on air monitors that don’t work, on large numbers of consultants and independent engineers who are not doing their jobs, and on spinning the story of a ‘cleanup’ in their glossy flyers.

This cover-up project should be stopped in its tracks until these better protective measures are put in place.

Marlene Kane


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