Growing up in Cape Breton, it was easy to be cynical about the Tar Ponds. Time after time someone would shout, “Someone should do something!”
A chorus of voices would reply, “Yeah!”
And then nothing would happen.
Finally, the cleanup is actually looking like it might happen. A method for ensuring the toxic soil, and the surrounding cocktail of chemicals, will not bother anyone again has been devised, after years upon years of debate. Solidification and Stabilization, the mixing of the chemicals in the soil with concrete, the covering of the concrete with an impermeable barrier, and the laying of sod over the top to remediate the land, is soon to begin. Finally, this will be dealt with, so of course everyone is happy and content.
Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, insists that this method is “A joke”, and insists it won’t work. Citizens and environmentalists do not want this to happen (but fail to provide acceptable alternatives). The Tar Ponds Agency (TPA) insists that this is proven technology.
As near as I can tell, without an environmental background, the TPA is telling the truth – The American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supports the use of this technology in what is referred to as ‘Brownfield Remediation’, and the method has been used successfully in places like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The CMHC also supports its use in reclaiming land for affordable housing, among other things.
So, are the environmentalists yelling for no reason? Maybe not. The EPA, in relation to another site in Pennsylvania, indicates that when petroleum content is high, the application of this method is problematic, as Ms. May indicates. Anyone who has seen the Tar Ponds has seen that petroleum products constitute a significant percentage of the toxins present. So, she is also telling the truth.
Where does that leave the people living nearby? The public has now risen against encapsulation, along with incineration, and removing the soil would be mind-bogglingly complex. I have no idea what washing the soil would entail, but it sounds even more difficult.
No answer will please everyone, and doing nothing will please no one. So, what now?
I think that now, after decades of living with a toxic legacy, we have to admit that no solution is perfect, and, rather than try to find a fix that will please everyone and make the area pristine, we have to admit the mistakes of the past, and just pick a solution that will do the least harm.
Just get on with it, whatever it is. Cap it off, wrap it up, lay some sod over it and play ball.