© Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Work has begun to landscape the Long Harbour slag pile, but stopped last week when workers became sick.
Occupational health and safety inspectors have determined that reburying contaminants that sickened workers at the slag pile in Long Harbour was the right thing to do.
Work on beautifying the gigantic, five-million-tonne slag pile was halted Nov. 17 by a contractor due to concern for worker safety. It is to be sloped and hydroseeded as part of a three-year makeover project.
Vale — which is building a nickel processing plant nearby — has contracted out the work, but the slag pile is owned by international chemical company Rhodia.
The Telegram broke the story Saturday, but the newspaper’s inquiries to the government last week prompted Government Services to send occupational health and safety investigators to the site Monday.
A spokeswoman for the department said the right action — reburying the substances — was taken and it’s what the occupational health and safety division would have recommended.
The department is leaving it up to Vale to investigate what happened. The department has asked to be kept in the loop, however.
The incident was not required to be reported to occupational health and safety as an official incident because the workers’ injuries weren’t deemed serious.
Vale spokesman Bob Carter said on Wednesday that the work was still halted and the company is consulting with Rhodia to try to prevent such discoveries when work continues.
Rhodia had provided Vale with information pinpointing where the landscaping could be done without encountering toxic contaminants. The area where workers were on Nov. 17 was not part of that information.
Carter said there were several incidents in which “unforseen buried substances were exposed,” including a couple of drums.
The slag pile was an offshoot of the phosphorous plant in Long Harbour which closed in 1989.
But the site has also been used as a municipal dump.
Work will remain stopped there until Vale completes its investigation.
The grey slag pile spans the length of one side of the harbour.
Slag from the former ERCO plant contained uranium and thorium, found to emit radon gas, a carcinogen.
The nickel processing plant is scheduled to begin operating in 2013.