Sydney Tar Ponds

The infamous tar ponds on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia contain an estimated 750,000 tons of toxic chemical contaminants, in an area known as one of the most polluted sites in Canada. The chemicals came from a Sydney Steel Corporations steel mill that polluted the area for over 100 years. The chemicals drained into a freshwater stream that flowed into Sydney Harbor, outside of Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada. The runoff from the mill filled the waterway with many different coal-based containments, sludge, and chemicals like benzene, kerosene, and naphthalene. There has been much political controversy concerning the cleanup of the site, and there have been many delays in remediation efforts. The beginning of the cleanup project dates back to the 1980s. One effort involved an incinerator to burn off the contaminated sludge from the ponds, but it failed after a pipeline could not move the toxic waste. This was followed by pouring cement into the ponds to stabilize the sludge. In 2014 the 400 million Canadian dollars cleanup was claimed to be completed and the tar ponds were turned into a park with playground, sport and walking facilities.

Contributed by James Trudell
Course: Modern Global Environmental History
Instructor: Dr. Wilko Graf von Hardenberg
University of Wisconsin–Madison, US

Further Readings: 
  • Furimsky, Edward. "Sydney Tar Ponds: Some Problems in Quantifying Toxic Waste." Environmental Management 30, no. 6 (2002): 872–9.
  • Barlow, Maude, and Elizabeth May. Frederick Street: Life and Death on Canada's Love Canal. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001.