Q and A for Odour Concerns Reporting Program 

Q: What are you doing to suppress odours?

A: We knew that odours were quickly becoming unpleasant even though there were no exceedances to date. We began an aggressive foaming program in the south pond starting the end of May. We are using short term foam and a longer lasting foam, Rusmar foam (looks like a shaving foam, goes on white, then darkens), CONCover 180: a slurry mix that develops into a crust to seal odours. Both can provide up to six months odour cover.

Q: Is it working?

A: We know that we are dealing with contaminated waste, and there will be odours. We can say we're doing a better job managing the odours, but there will still be odours. We're hoping that our efforts will minimize the impact to our neighbours.

Our regulator has informed us that there are fewer complaints, which is what we were working toward. We remain confident that we can complete this project safely and effectively, but we also have to be courteous and respectful. We feel that the efforts we put into better managing the odours demonstrate our commitment to that.

Q: Am I safe?

A: The Sydney Tar Ponds Agency is committed to cleaning up the Tar Ponds at a rate that keeps air emissions at a safe level. During all our construction activities, we are monitoring your air, and remain committed to protecting your health and safety. We have a sophisticated air monitoring program with stringent air criteria designed to protect workers on our site and residents in nearby neighbourhoods.

Q: What are you doing to ensure we're safe?

A: The Sydney Tar Ponds Agency has a comprehensive air monitoring program that consists of both an Ambient Air Monitoring Program (fixed stations both downwind and upwind of the site), as well as a Real-time Air monitoring Program at the project fence line.

Q: What do I smell?

A: Neighbours may smell a combination of odours. The Agency assessed the contaminated site to determine which chemicals would be released during construction activity and have incorporated those chemicals into the air monitoring program. This assessment includes chemicals that have odours (naphthalene, which is a PAH), and those that are odourless (some other PAHs). Because our air monitoring program includes these chemicals, we are confident that we are working at levels that are protective of human health.

Q: Why is my nose picking up odours, but your air monitoring equipment shows no or little detection of odours?

A: The reason for that is that in many cases the nose is much more sensitive than most instruments. As an example, we monitor naphthalene here at the tar ponds, which is a component of coal tar waste. Our nose detects the odour at 0.08 to 0.1 parts per million (ppm), however, the detection limits for our fence-line handheld instruments starts at 0.1 ppm. These limits are two full order of magnitudes less than our self imposed threshold factor for the protection of human health, which has been modelled at 10 ppm. In summary, our air monitors detect VOCs only when they reach instrument detection limits, but always much sooner than it becomes a risk to human health, which is our top priority. We do have a terse speciation (breakdown) of what our site odours are. However like anything we do here, we try to define it or break it down even more by enhancing our program. This speciation can be seen from the results of our monthly ambient air monitoring reports which are posted on our web page.

Q: Can you describe the Ambient Air Monitoring Program?

A: Monitoring air quality is a critical component of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency`s goal to inform the public of air quality and potential exposure around the Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens sites. The program establishes compliance with provincial and federal air regulations, tracks air quality trends, evaluates the progress and supports the development of emission control programs. Ambient air monitoring is the collection of various air contaminants in Sydney's air shed using standard methods. Data collected is compared to appropriate provincial and federal regulations, guidelines, criteria to determine if concentrations of contaminants are within acceptable levels. Ambient air monitoring has been conducted around the sites since 1989 using six fixed monitoring stations strategically placed in nearby locations. They operate every six days and measure air quality for a 24-hour period, corresponding with the 6-day National Air Pollution Surveillance (NAPS) schedule. All historical data is available at the Agency's library.

Q: What is monitored through the Ambient Air Monitoring Program?


  • Total Suspended Particulate Matter (less than 50 micrometers in diameter)
  • Metal scan of the Total Suspended Particulate Matter (lead, arsenic, cadmium,etc)
  • Particulate Matter 10 (PM10 - airborne particles less than 10 micrometres in diameter. A human hair has a diameter of 50 to 100 micrometres in diameter)
  • Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM 2.5)
  • Volatile Organic Compounds
    (There are several thousand chemicals, synthetic and natural, that are considered VOCs)
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Q: Can you describe the Real-time Air Monitoring Program?

A: Approved action levels for Real-time air quality criteria support instantaneous measurements at the fence line and approved reporting procedures during all construction activities. A PM10 Site Action Level of 155 micrograms per metre cubed is used for Real-time monitoring and a Total Volatile Organic Compounds action level of 0.66 parts per million is used for Real-time monitoring at the perimeter fenceline.

Real-time ambient air monitoring for PM10 is performed by using a handheld electronic TSI DustTrak aerosol monitor. Real-time monitoring for Total Volatile Organic Compounds is performed by using a handheld MiniRae 2000 Photo-ionization Detector (PID) and the human nose as a common trigger mechanism. If an odor is detected by an on-site technologist, bystander, or contractor, the PID is able to detect air concentrations almost immediately.

Q: Can you describe you the Daily Dust Budget?

A: The dust budget calculation is a predictive tool used to determine how much dust would be released into the air shed if construction activities were to continue for the remaining portion of the work day. The budget is calculated by using the real-time data logged throughout the day, plus the highest reading for one hour and adding background contributions (like exhaust from automobiles). If the values calculated do not exceed 990 micrometres per cubic metre, construction activities continue.

Q: How was the Air criteria established?

A: To address community air quality issues, Canadian and international health agencies have identified concentrations of chemical substances which they call "Ambient Air Quality" standards or guidelines. These are concentrations based on effects such as health, odour, impact to vegetation, soiling, visibility or corrosion. Ambient air quality criteria reflect a number of factors, as well as reflecting potential or actual low level exposures over very long time periods. As such, ambient air quality concentrations are lower than odour thresholds and much lower than worker or other occupational health guidelines. The lower ambient air concentrations provide an added safety margin and ensure health protection for the community, including the most sensitive people.

Q: How do you know if the Air monitoring Program is sufficient?

A: To assess the results of its air quality monitoring program, the STPA has adopted a set of Ambient Air Quality criteria based, for the most part, on the Ontario Ministry of Environment Regulation for Local Air Quality. The Ontario Regulation was chosen because it addresses a large set of chemical compounds; is current (first published in 2005; revised in 2008 and 2010); and represents a Canadian jurisdiction.

Q: What do you do in the event of an exceedance?

A: When real-time air monitors pick up an exceedance, the Agency is alerted. If contractors are unable to lessen their impact on the air within a specified time, work is shut down in that area until air quality returns to normal. These mitigative steps are taken before emissions reach an unsafe level.

Q: How will I know if there is an exceedance?

A: When real-time air monitors detect an exceedance and contractors are directed to stop work for the day, the Agency distributes a public notice to all Cape Breton media within one working day of the exceedance.

In the Ambient Air Monitoring program, the data is collected on every sixth day and is sent to a lab for analysis. When the lab reports an exceedance to the Agency, the Agency distributes a public notice to all Cape Breton media within one working day of the reported exceedance.

Q: How can I learn more?

A: To learn more, please visit our website at
www.tarpondscleanup.ca. Real-time air monitoring reports are posted to the website daily, and ambient air monitoring reports are posted when approved.


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