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May 08 27 For nearly 100 years, the major employer in the city of Sydney on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, was its steel mill and associated coke plant. In its heyday, 120,000 people depended on it, in one way or another, as it supported the island’s economy. Most recently operated by The Sydney Steel Corporation (SYSCO), the mill closed in 2001, and some of its former workers have since been involved in dismantling the entire facility and preparing the site for remediation. Until the mid-1980s, the mill used coke to fuel its blast furnaces. Coke is produced by slowly baking coal, causing contaminating liquids to leach out in the process. The run-off from the coke ovens over a period of 85 years found its way into the Muggah Creek tidal estuary, creating the Sydney Tar Ponds. The coke ovens were demolished in the early 1990s, but the site now contains over a million tons of contaminated soil and sediment, right on the waterfront in the center of the city. The Tar Ponds are now undergoing one of the largest environmental cleanups in Canada. The CDN $400 million project is managed by a provincial agency—with 70 percent of the funding provided by the federal government and 30 percent by the Province of Nova Scotia. In charge of the project is Frank Potter, president of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency (STPA), which was created in 2001. “We’re called a special operating agency,” he says, “and I report to a provincial minister. We have around 600 acres of land right in the heart of the city that for all intents and purposes is either contaminated or desolate.” But cleaning up industrial contamination is not an easy matter, and early attempts to do so failed as a result of political controversy and technical difficulties. In 1986, the Canadian and Nova Scotia governments agreed to dredge the Tar Ponds and pump the sediments through a milelong pipeline to an incinerator and power plant. The incinerator was finally commissioned in 1994, after many delays, but the pipeline system proved unable to handle the thick, lumpy, Tar Ponds sludge, and the project was abandoned. In 1996, the Nova Scotia government proposed a plan to bury the Tar Ponds under slag procured from the steel mill, but local critics condemned SydneyTarPondsAgency

28 May 08 it. “So the government decided to take a different approach this time and asked the community how they would like the site to be cleaned up,” says Potter. This, again, was a long drawn-out procedure, but the resulting plan has local support, technical competence, and is well on the way toward a satisfactory outcome in 2014. “They put in place a joint action group (JAG), and there were almost 1000 public meetings held to discuss the various options,” says Potter. This community-driven volunteer group represented local residents, businesses, community organizations, and three levels of government. In 2003, technical experts presented JAG with a shortlist of safe and effective cleanup solutions, and JAG led an intense public review of that report. While federal and provincial governments were considering the options, work began to demolish the buildings and clear the site ready for remediation. “We had a large number of buildings, tanks and smokestacks left over from the coking operation that were taken down,” says Potter. “We also had a couple of brooks and some municipal water lines to move.” A barrier also had to be built across the mouth of Muggah Creek to protect Sydney Harbour from further pollution as the cleanup proceeds. The method chosen to clean up the hazardous waste was solidification and stabilization (known for ease as SS), a proven solution dating back to the 1950s, in which cement is mixed into the contaminated material. The cement reacts chemically with water in the material being treated, creating physical and chemical changes that stabilize the hazardous constituents and prevent their escape into the environment. “We don’t turn it into concrete,” says Potter. “That’s a common misconception. First we have to dewater the ponds, then we add low volumes of cement into the sediment, with some slag that is left over from the steel making process.” When this process is complete, Potter explains, the ground will be above water level. “The ponds are actually very shallow. At low tide they are like mud flats, so when we have finished the cleanup, it will no longer be covered by tidal water, it will be usable land. We’re expecting it to become parkland, and there is potential for sports fields and other recreational activities.” After dewatering, the Agency expects to find all manner of debris at the bottom of the ponds, which will need to be cleaned up prior to disposal. A $9 million dollar material processing facility will be built to deal with this, and also to cleanse every vehicle before it leaves the site. The cleanedup debris will be recycled or go to a landfill site. The STPA has adapted its tender arrangements to encourage the participation of local firms. “We evaluate the tenders for price and award the contractor up to 85 points on that,” says Potter. “The remaining 15 points are allocated on the basis of what we call local economic benefits, to give some advantage to local companies with a local workforce.” The Agency is also involving Aboriginal companies, by taking the guidelines of the federal set-aside program a little further than is usual. “We’ve adopted that and tweaked it a little bit, by specifying that any partnerships should have at least 51 percent aboriginal