Canadian Consulting Engineer

Sydney Tar Ponds clean-up moves one step closer

January 23, 2006
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

A massive environment impact statement done by consulting engineers has concluded that the proposed methods for cle...

A massive environment impact statement done by consulting engineers has concluded that the proposed methods for cleaning up the Sydney Tar Ponds and Coke Oven site in Sydney, Nova Scotia will have no lasting negative impacts on the environment or human health.

AMEC Earth and Environmental headed the team doing the study, which produced a report of seven volumes and 3,000 pages. ADI Ltd. and Jacques Whitford were the other two consulting engineers who contributed to the report.

The public has until February 16 to comment on the study. It then goes to a joint review panel, then for public hearings, and finally for recommendation to the federal government. After that, if all goes well, then the long-delayed clean-up of one of Canada’s worst post-industrial polluted sites can begin. The Sydney Tar Ponds are a toxic sludge, legacy of the steel industry on the site and the coke ovens which burned coal into coke for 88 years. The byproducts, such as tars, heavy metals and volatile chemicals like benzene, were often dumped into the ground where they seeped into the bedrock or were carried in streams into the tar ponds.

One aspect of the latest clean-up plans — the proposal to incinerate the most seriously contaminated material in a portable PCB incinerator on the site — is still causing public concern. However, residents are anxious not to postpone action for much longer. At a January meeting of those opposed to incineration, one local resident who is a retired steelworker, said “If we don’t watch out, we’re going to be studied to death…. Let’s get on with this.”


The $400-million project to clean up the former steel plant and coke ovens site will involve a number of different components. It will involve removing and incinerating 120,000 tonnes of PCB-contaminated sediment and approximately 25,300 tonnes of sediment containing polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Some of the remaining waste will be stabilized and solidified using hardening agents like Portland cement powder. There will also be permanent engineered caps, and the installation of surface and groundwater controls

The environmental impact statement just completed evaluated the impact of the clean-up operations on everything from fish habitat to air emissions and noise.

Frank Potter, the Sydney native who is acting chief executive officer of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency said, “This is a very reassuring report. It confirms that the impact of the cleanup will be overwhelmingly positive. It will make Sydney a better place to live, work, play and invest.”
Action to clean up the Sydney site by the federal and provincial governments has been going on since 1986 when a program was begun to dredge the Tar Ponds and pump the sediment into an incinerator to generate electricity. The pipeline kept becoming plugged and the strategy was abandoned in 1994. A 1996 plan to cover the ponds with slag was rejected by residents and environmentalists.

Eventually, the clean-up program was expanded to include a local municipal dump as well as the Coke Ovens Creek.

The 3,000-word environmental impact statement prepared by AMEC, ADI and Jacques Whitford is on A “plain language” 27-page summary of the environmental impact statement is also available upon request.


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