August 2-9, 2004

Sydney as safe as any other NS city, says medical officer

Sydney is as safe a place to live as any similar urban community in Nova Scotia, says the province's Medical Officer of Health, Dr Jeff Scott. "When it comes to environmental causes of ill-health, soil is one of the least likely pathways for harmful exposure," he stated.

Dr Scott and Dr Charl Badenhorst, district medical officer of Health for Cape Breton, also offered "prudent" recommendations for limiting exposure. They were responding to a new statistical analysis comparing soil samples collected in Sydney and North Sydney with soil samples collected during the 2001 Chronic Health Risk Assessment in the neighbourhood adjacent to the coke ovens.

Dr Scott requested the analysis, carried out by JDAC Environment, a consortium of engineering companies, to see if conditions in any other Sydney neighbourhoods warranted further investigation. North Sydney was chosen for comparison because it has a history of urban activities similar to Sydney's, but no history of steel and coke production, which some environmentalists have blamed for contamination of Sydney soils.

The statistical analysis found that chemical concentrations in most of Sydney are similar to, or lower than, those in North Sydney. Parts of the north end, however, such as Railway Street and Victoria Road, had average concentrations of some chemicals comparable to, but no higher than, the neighbourhood north of the coke ovens.

JDAC also looked for patterns that might show whether soil contamination was connected to fallout from Sysco. They found no definitive correlation between industrial emissions and soil chemistry, suggesting that the soil chemicals are not entirely attributable to steelmaking operations.

Drs Scott and Badenhorst concluded that further study of soil concentrations is not merited except in connection with on-site cleanup activities. They advised the district health authority to continue education programs on the safe disposal of chemical sources such as ashes, and on ways to reduce intake of soil contaminants.

They further recommended that the Tar Ponds cleanup be "planned and conducted to ensure that increased exposure to chemicals does not take place," and said cleanup planners should use information gathered about off-site contamination to seek "opportunities for reducing existing exposures where feasible."

The full JDAC report, as well as a brief summary, along with the response of the medical officers of health, are available on the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency Web site, www.gov.ns.ca/stpa/.

In other developments, a recent engineering report on the Tar Ponds and coke ovens cleanup recommends rerouting Coke Ovens Brook along two branches. This follows from previous studies which recommended moving the brook to an area where it will not pick up contaminated groundwater as it passes through the coke ovens site. Moving the brook will also permit a more thorough cleanup of the stream bed, where contaminants accumulated during a century of coke production.

The full report of the conceptual design by the engineering firms Dillon Consulting and Franz Environmental is also available on the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency Web site noted above.

The Agency plans to commission a detailed engineering design of the realignment and will conduct an environmental screening, with work on the project expected to begin in the summer of 2005.

"This is an exciting development," said Richard Morykot, the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency engineer who supervised the project. "It's the first concrete step in the big cleanup."

The newly realigned brook will have two branches. The south branch will start at the outflow from the Maid Pond, behind the Schwartz building on Vulcan Avenue. It will run along the southern boundary of the coke ovens site, parallel to Vulcan Avenue, through an area known as Mullin's Bank. Near the western boundary of the site, the brook will merge with Cagney Brook and run north, parallel to Victoria Road, and then follow the existing channel under the Victoria Road overpass.

The north branch will run along the Whitney Pier side of the Sydney Coal Railway track and the Spar road, picking up flows from several smaller brooks along the way. It will cross under the tracks and the Spar Road at a point just east of Lingan Road, and follow the rail spur through the Coke Ovens site to join the south branch at the Victoria Road overpass. Part of the relocated south branch will be piped underground, and portions of both branches will be lined with synthetic material or clay to prevent recontamination.

Meanwhile, engineering work continues on three other projects which have been advanced to prevent environmental damage while the cleanup undergoes mandatory environmental assessment. The projects include the construction of a cofferdam at Battery Point, the cleanup of the cooling pond at the southwest corner of the Sysco property, and the relocation of the Victoria Road water main.

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