Concern for the Sydney Tar Ponds (April 2001)

August 17, 2001

Premier John Hamm
Nova Scotia Legislature
Dear Dr. Hamm:
Open Letter re Sydney Tar Ponds

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment is writing to express our deep concern regarding the appalling situation at the Sydney Tar Ponds. While a lot of the details may not be nailed down, it is absolutely clear that there is more than enough known to be able to say that the vicinity of the Sydney Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens Site is a dangerous and unhealthy place to live. As a physician and as a grandfather, there is only one question you can ask yourself – would you allow your grandchildren to live on Tupper or Hankard or Intercolonial Street or in any of the other affected neighbourhoods? Based on all we have learned about the situation, as physicians knowledgeable about environmental health issues, we certainly would not allow our families to live there, and would advise our patients to leave.

A variety of often intensely toxic substances, well above safe levels, combined with wide-spread contamination of air, water and soil and a long history of egregious mismanagement by various federal and provincial government departments, make this both a dangerous and a disgraceful situation, intoleratable in any supposedly civilized society.

We call you upon you, as a fellow physician, to recall the duty laid upon you by the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. We ask you to insist that your government err on the side of caution and not, as it seems to have done, on the side of risk to citizens’ lives and health. In the case of the Sydney Tar Ponds, your duty as both a physician and Premier is clear: to act in the interest of the health of the residents by immediately removing them from harm’s way, and compensating them for the physical and psychological damage they have suffered. Beyond that, we call upon you to: immediately release all information about contamination in the area, so that citizens can judge the situation for themselves; initiate a long-term health study of current and former residents; establish a Commission of Enquiry to analyze how this situation developed as it did; and of course, clean up the frightful pollution of the Tar Ponds in order to protect future generations.

We look forward to your response to our concerns.

Dr. Warren Bell



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