Canadian Consulting Engineer

Sydney Tar Ponds clean-up is set to go

After years of political controversy, of citizens' frustration, and the production of thousands of pages of environ...

May 17, 2004   Canadian Consulting Engineer

After years of political controversy, of citizens’ frustration, and the production of thousands of pages of environmental and engineering studies, it looks as though the clean-up of the Sydney Tar Ponds in Nova Scotia is about to start. The federal and provincial governments announced last week that they have committed $400 million to a 10-year project to clean up one of Canada’s biggest industrial cesspools.
The tar ponds in Sydney are a legacy of its steel industry, which for 80 years released toxic wastes such as benzene, kerosene and napthalene into a nearby brook. The contaminants slowly collected in an estuary that flows into Sydney Harbour. It is believed that the tar ponds contain as many as 15 different types of cancer-causing chemicals, including about 45,000 tonnes of sediments containing PCBs in concentrations greater than 50 parts per million.
Governments have announced clean-up plans before, and sceptics remain. However this time the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency in charge has outlined the technologies that will be used and a number of fast-track projects that can begin soon.
The plan is to treat the worst contaminants in the Tar Ponds, and in the Tar Cell and Coke oven site using a mobile, high temperature PCB incinerator. The remaining pollutants will be treated using bioremediation and solidification technologies. Finally the site will be capped and contained, then monitored. The site eventually will be a grassy hillside that may become a park.
The clean-up is to take 10 years and will produce 2,500 person years of employment. Many consulting engineers have been involved in the project over the past years, doing studies for the remediation. Ongoing consulting engineering work is being done by CBCL, AMEC, ADI and Dillon Consulting, and the agency has said that during the next few months it will be issuing tenders for engineering design work for four fast-track projects. First an environmental assessment has to be done.
The preliminary projects the agency hopes to start on first include building a cofferdam in the North Pond, demolition of the Coke Ovens Cooling Pond, the realignment of the Coke Ovens Brook, realigning the Whitney Pier waterline and designing a leachate treatment system. The government is also looking for a consultant to help prepare documents for the environmental assessment and to provide independent advice to the two levels of government.
The lead project management consultant for organizing the clean-up strategies is Conestoga-Rovers & Associates, out of Waterloo. They established an office in Sydney, and provided support in managing most of the major engineering studies and site work.Other consulting engineers that have done work on the site in the past include Vaughan Engineering, Washburn & Gillis, AMEC Earth & Environmental, Cape Breton Environmental Group, Nolan Davis, Jacques Whitford, JDAC Environmental, Conestoga-Rovers, Acres, ENSR and Gemtec.
Despite the exciting announcement, there are sceptics. In the Toronto Star newspaper of May 15, local columnist Kelly Toughill of Halifax had this to say of the $400 funding announcement by Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm and federal Environment Minister David Anderson: “He (Anderson) is the third Liberal minister to make a clean-up-the-tarponds announcement in Sydney in the last six years, and not a teaspoonful of the goo has yet been removed.”


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