m) July 5, 2010

Change in wind the only help on offer to deal with tar ponds odours

Cape Breton Post, Letter by Marlene Kane – Monday, July 5, 2010

In late June the Department of Environment issued a directive to the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency to better manage the odours coming from the tar ponds, based on complaints the department received from the public.  STPA’s Communication Manager, Tanya Collier MacDonald, responded in interviews saying the agency wants people to be comfortable in their homes during the construction period and doesn’t want this work to have a negative impact on the lives of those around the site. Well, it’s too late on both counts.  The terrible stench has been negatively impacting people and making them uncomfortable in and around their homes for the past number of months, and it’s only getting worse.

This stench has permeated homes and businesses all over this city.  People have complained for months; people are uncomfortable, worried, and feeling ill effects, but nothing has improved.  In fact, the odours have become much worse. The only time one neighbourhood gets a break from the rotten chemical stench is when the wind changes direction and some other neighbourhood gets it.  If the odours appear to be dissipating, it’s not because any have been suppressed by STPA or any of the engineering firms involved including AECOM, CBCL and CRA.

Collier MacDonald admits there will always be an odour until the work is done, which means the agency can’t control this problem regardless of any directives from the department.  That is exactly why citizens asked the agency, government partners and consultants that if they were going to continue with this ridiculous cover-up plan, at least conduct the work under enclosures with negative pressure and carbon filters so that these emissions could be captured and filtered rather than be released into the air we breathe.  STPA and their experts expected this excavation and mixing of hazardous waste in the tar ponds would damage the air but they still didn’t act to protect us. The design engineering firm for the project has had experience doing this kind of work under an enclosure, so why wasn’t it done here?

The agency is now using two kinds of foam which it says would dampen odours as hazardous waste is churned up in the tar ponds and mixed with cement powder, but unfortunately it hasn’t made a bit of difference. These strong odours never go away; they just move in different directions. The agency and all of its consultants have done absolutely nothing that has helped to control these odours yet.  They all seem to lack the expertise now that the problem is completely out of control.  What’s next?  Nothing – because they are incapable of controlling these odors now that the whole site has been disturbed.  Even when much of the tar ponds were flooded under several feet of water in early June, the stench took your breath away.

The environment department has stated it doesn’t know what chemicals are causing these odours but is confident they’re not dealing with a health risk.  How can this possibly be stated?  Shouldn’t chemicals be identified first before stating whether or not they pose a health risk?  People have complained about increased breathing difficulties, exhaustion, dry burning eyes, nose and throat, as well as nausea when the odours are in and around their homes. Whether the chemicals have been identified or not, they are still having an impact on people’s health and well-being.

Despite the department’s directive, we should not expect any change.  Asking STPA to increase air monitoring is also a waste of time, considering that the useless monitors in place now have not detected any exceedences so far, according to Collier MacDonald, despite the stench.  We don’t need more of the same.  We need air monitors that actually work to detect individual chemicals of concern which we can rely on to alert us in a timely manner. We need the remaining three or four years of this project to be conducted under enclosures, even if that does dip into everyone’s profit margin.  We need politicians to step up to the plate and demand this.

What we really need here is an actual cleanup, rather than just a cover-up, but that’s not going to happen. We will be exposed to these airborne chemicals for years, while hazardous waste will just be covered up, and will still be leaching hazardous contaminants into the harbour for generations to come.  That’s the legacy all those involved in this project will be leaving behind.

Marlene Kane




  1. Marlene keep up the good work. I think someone needs to deal with the issue of wether or not it is legal to expose people to the hazardous materials on site that are being released. The chemicals that I am referring to have been brought on-site by the contractors. Chemicals like portland cement which contain carcinogens and are being actively released into the air while solidification takes place. I know that there are legal limits defined as STEL and TWA for workers on-site, but what about the people who live in this area and do not work there. At least for the most part the workers know what they will be exposed to and are paid to take that risk.

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