Reburying contaminants right move: inspectors

Barb Sweet
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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.

Twitter: bsweettweets

Organizations: Government Services

Geographic location: Long Harbour

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Recent comments

  • Brad
    November 29, 2010 - 09:20

    Jaime Teran if you are going to make fun of people's education, it would be wise to ensure that your spelling and grammar are correct. Otherwise you may make yourself look silly and uneducated.

  • Randy
    November 27, 2010 - 21:06

    What an Enviormental Disaster! But are we learning anything from it? NO! Look at what Vale Inco is doing regards of the Sandy Pond Issue. Vale given permission by our Goverment to DRAIN a Lake to use has a Tailings Pond Cause it's CHEAPER than building a proper Containment Facility! Hopefully the Courts scrap the idea

  • Willi Makit
    November 27, 2010 - 10:25

    Rebury it? What are we - a third world country? Will we ever get a government that will take our environment seriously?

    • Jaime Teran
      November 28, 2010 - 07:43

      To "Willi Makit": Hey dude, show more respect for what you call "3rd world country" You have no idea what are you talking about. I hope newfoundlanders will be more educated in the future, since as I see now, even most of them are nice people, they are victims of lack of education...

  • lonenewfwolf
    November 26, 2010 - 16:52

    there are so many things about this article that i find truly baffling. 'rebury'? 'leave up to vale to investigate'? 'the company is consulting with Rhodia to try to prevent such discoveries'? where are we at people? this is toxic sludge seeping into our environment. its going to be there. having toxic impacts, giving our kids cancer for a long time to come. what are we not asking the tough questions? why are we not spending money cleaning these past mistakes up and making a better future for the generations to come? as these drums rust and corrode they will seep their toxic contaminants into the marine environment, work their way up the food chain into our water and food supplies and eventually contaminate us. that's bioaccumulation at work. is this what we want the future to look like?

  • rob
    November 26, 2010 - 11:40

    I can't believe they are reburying toxic waste that’s leeching into our land and ocean! This is really unbelievable!

  • lonenewfwolf
    November 25, 2010 - 16:39

    why wasn't the hazard picked up the environmental assessment? if it was, what was the risk of exposure and who is accountable for the long-term health of the employees affected? were employees informed of the risks? were are there other sites like this on the island? what if this had gone on without being noticed? would happen if there was a salmon farm in the area? what is the potential for permanent environmental impact? if they're not going to clean it up now, who will have to foot the bill for the environmental clean-up thirty years down the road? one guess...

  • Brad
    November 25, 2010 - 12:00

    They are seeing firsthand the dangers of allowing industries to do whatever they want, yet they allow worse than that to happen justy over the hill from there. What was in those drums, and why isn't it being removed? What happens when the drum rust out and the contents seeps into the ground? I guess it is like everything else, out of sight out of mind. The fact that anyone would take a job doing this just goes to show what people would do to get a job in this province. A few bucks now may mean an early death because how do you protect yourself from harmful chemicals when you don't know what you are working with. I would also like to hear from the ever brilliant Charlene Johnson on this matter.

  • Steve
    November 25, 2010 - 07:51

    Okay, Occupational Health and Safety says reburying was the right thing to do. What does the Environment Department think?