WIT Press

The Sydney Tar Ponds: Lessons Learned From Canada’s First Superfund Level Project


Free (open access)





Page Range

173 - 182




3,415 kb

Paper DOI



WIT Press


E. MacLellan & A. Britten


The paper traces the history of the Sydney Tar Ponds Clean-Up project from the first announcement in 1986 to the present, including comments on the more than $560M (USD) spent or committed to date. During this period the project generated thousands of headlines in print, television and radio media; and created significant grief for the community, elected officials, public servants, consultants and others. This paper examines the different attempts to clean-up the tar ponds and scopes out lessons learned related to organization structure, public engagement, risk communication, innovation and other areas. Keywords: Sydney tar ponds, hazardous waste, PAH, PCB, risk communication. 1 Introduction Canada’s first superfund level project is on budget and on schedule but the road to this point has had many twists and turns. In 1986 the Government of Canada and Province of Nova Scotia announced the Sydney Tar Ponds Clean-up project with a total budget of $34M; but from 1986 to 2010 there has been at least $560M spent or committed. This paper will provide background on the turbulent history of the project in four distinct stages. The lessons learned are then highlighted for discussion. 2 The community in history The Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens sites (Figure 1) are a legacy of a steel and coal industry that goes back to the Dominion Iron & Steel Company in 1899. The attraction for establishing a coal industry in Cape Breton was the coal mines, a very good harbour and the proximity to markets. In 1920 the British Empire


Sydney tar ponds, hazardous waste, PAH, PCB, risk communication