In 1900, construction of a steel plant in Sydney, Nova Scotia began after 500 acres of land on an an estuary to the harbour was granted by the government. A community called Whitney Pier was sprouted not far to the north of the acreage and it supported the factory with a work and lifeforce for over 80 years.

During the early 1900s, smokestacks and pollution were symbols of prosperity and growth so nearby residents learned to live with the plant's constant belching of pollutants into the air. Chronic illnesses and shorter lifespans were a way of life on Whitney Pier but all the residents were too thankful to be given work and a free home by the government to ever complain.

Over time, the archaic operations did more damage to itself and the land than good to the Crown Corporations that have held its ownership's pockets. Coal of poor quality was often used to make the steel, compromising end product quality and profit.

Waste was another product of an operation using inferior raw materials. Slag, a byproduct of steel making was dumped into piles, unlined pits and eventually in the estuary itself for the entire lifespan of the plant's operation causing a buildup of chemicals over time to create the worst environmental disaster in North America.

Another plant process called coking managed to pollute a nearby creek until it flowed orange with arsenic, molybdenum, benzopyrene, antimony, naphthalene, lead, toulene, tar, benzene, kerosene, copper and PAHs. The lands above the coke ovens spontaneously catch fire only to be unquenchable by firefighters to this day.

The amount of chemical waste on the site today is astounding. Amounts of PCBs found on the tested areas are as high as 663 ppm among the 700,000 tonnes of toxic sludge. The province denied any danger to nearby residents until all of the dogs on Whitney Pier died, people's chronic ailments worsened, cancers persisted and residents put up a fight. Only until the chemical muck started seeping into people's homes did anyone get moved at the government's expense.

The plant was Sydney's main operating industry. Closing the plant meant thousands of lost jobs, less revenue for the province, low civic morale and a serious unemployment situation. The plant's pollution was affecting the fisheries in Sydney's harbour and unemployment in that sector was becoming uncontrolable alone.

A new Crown Corporation was birthed to assume operating responsibilities while the province figured out what to do with the mess. Time ticked on and tests upon tests were performed on the polluted muck that was once the estuary. The insanely high levels of pollutants were best thought to be incinerated, however the design that was implemented was to pump the mess uphill.

As we all know The Law of Gravity generally prevents substances with a low viscosity from being pumped uphill, but someone believed that their plan would work. The clean-up project has sat idle ever since.

No company wishes to send any of their employees out into the ponds for any sum of money and politicians are looking at covering the mess with parkland as a "fix" for the problem. Perhaps condemning the area and sealing it off somehow would be a decent solution considering the circumstances, however environmentalists are concerned about further ground water and harbour pollution as well as the possibility of plant life releasing benzene into the atmosphere.

An environmental disaster 35 times worse than Love Canal, the Sydney Tar Ponds are a little-communicated topic within the country and the rest of the world. Its a shame that its grown beyond the control of money, politics and humanity and that so many lives have been affected by such an ugly industry and the lack of responsibility by the government.
Further reading and sources:
http://www.ns.ec.gc.ca/emergencies/studies_sysco.html
http://www.web.net/~sierra/stp/
"Fredrick Street Life and Death on Canada's Love Canal" Maude Barlow, Elizabeth May - ISBN 0-00-200036-9

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