The new federal Environment Minister, Rona Ambrose, stopped in Dartmouth (at the end of my street, actually!) to visit the Atlantic Storm Prediction Centre. Said Centre will soon, if things proceed as they have been, consist of a big picture window with some guy looking out of it. And maybe somebody with a bad knee who “feels in me leg” when bad weather’s comin’.
That aside, I am troubled by the lack of discussion, probably due to this, on some environmental issues: Kyoto and the Sydney Tar Ponds. The latter is what I would like to discuss.
For nearly 100 years, steelmaking constituted the economic engine of Cape Breton Island. Under a variety of corporate names (DOSCO, SYSCO), the steel plant churned away for years, employing thousands of employees over the years, including entire families (such as my grandfather and 2 uncles). At one time, the plant produced fully half of the steel produced in Canada. The work was difficult and dangerous, but it helped these men provide for their families in an otherwise ‘problematic’ economy.
The problem with this inspiring picture is the complete lack of concern for the environment shown by the owners (primarily Crown corporations) over the plant’s lifetime. The Tar Ponds, and the Coke Ovens site, were the results of the steelmaking process, areas where the toxic byproducts were dumped without any consideration for the homes nearby (which were built for the steelworkers) or for Sydney Harbour, which, because of the outflow from Muggah Creek, now has no edible life in it. Where at one time it was acceptable to catch and eat fish and lobsters from the harbour, now, unless you’re suicidal, you just don’t.
Admittedly, at the turn of the last century, the environment was not something, in most people’s view, that warranted consideration. Indeed, it was a thing to be tamed and ultimately conquered, a view that represented the last vestiges of the Victorian need for conquest, metaphorical or real.
But now, when the promised $280 million dollars promised by the Federal government is coming due…nothing. No word on whether we should wait patiently for the direct deposit, or give them a little while longer ’cause they needed to get groceries, then the car crapped out on them, so they had to write a cheque, so they’re a little short this month…
People are dying. The concentrations of PCBs and PAHs in the environment are creating long-term health problems, not just for the former workers, but for anyone who ever lived in proximity to the ground the plant stood on. (There is a very good history here, I highly recommend a visit.)
And, the government, though its unerring support of the plant over the years, and repeated denials of the long-term damage it created, are culpable. The fact that the debates have dragged on since the 1980′s, despite numerous high-profile citizen protests, is unbelieveable. Let’s see the Minister of the Environment wade out to the middle of the Tar Ponds (ignoring the razor-wire and the ‘Human Health Hazard’ signs), and see how many questions she can answer before her legs dissolve.
This is not to be taken lightly, despite my occasional lapses. If Stephen Harper wants to appear as though he is taking the government in a different direction, let’s try a radically different one: Give them the money to make this cesspool, the worst toxic site outside Eastern Europe, disappear. Make Cape Breton a place where families can live safely, and maybe, just maybe, the Island will come back to life.