Sydney Tar Ponds Contamination, Nova Scotia Canada


The Syndney tar ponds in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia—a result of toxic runoff from steel industry coke ovens—are North America’s largest toxic waste site. (1;2; 5) These ponds belong to the Muggah Creek watershed and lie in the urban area of Sydney, impacting more than 25,000 residents within a four-kilometre radius. (2) Recently, Canada’s Supreme Court rejected a class action lawsuit on behalf of Novia Scotians suffering from negative health impacts linked to exposure to the ponds. (1) Recorded chemicals concentrated above levels permitted by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment health guidelines include arsenic, molybdenum, benzopyrene, lead, antimony, naphthalene, toluene, benzene, tar, kerosene, copper, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons.

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Basic Data
NameSydney Tar Ponds Contamination, Nova Scotia Canada
ProvinceNova Scotia
SiteCape Breton; Sydney
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Waste Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Manufacturing activities
Specific CommoditiesWater
Industrial waste
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project Details100 years of coke and steel production have resulted in 770,000 tonnes of toxic sludge and pollution 24 metres deep in a 51 hectare area where 400 old coke ovens operated
Level of Investment (in USD)400,000,000
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population25,000
Start Date01/01/1980
Company Names or State EnterprisesSydney Stell Corporation from Canada
Cape Breton Development Corporation from Canada
Sydney Tar Ponds Agency from Canada
International Technologies from Canada
Jacques Whitford Environment Ltd. from Canada
Relevant government actorsEnvironment Canada

Canadian Ministry of Health

Supreme Court of Nova Scotia
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersEcojustice (law charity);

Sierra Club of Canada
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndustrial workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Otherwide range of health impacts including cancer, chronic diarrhea, eye and ear infections, lung problems, Alzheimer’s disease, respiratory and heart problems, and birth defects
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Displacement
Othermonetary impact of costs associated with legal fees, health fees, and potential relocation
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Development of AlternativesResidents are asking for immediate relocation from Frederick street, where the pollution is the worst. They are also seeking a medical monitoring fund and compensation for the contamination. The Sierra Club of Canada has called for the resignation of Canada's Chief Medical Officer.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The court case has been rejected, and the claimants hit with almost 1 million in legal fees.
Sources and Materials

1. "A Dark Day for Environmental Justice in Canada." Huffington Post Blog. Ecojustice. Accessed Feb. 3, 2015.
[click to view]

4. Hazmat Management: “The Sydney Tar Ponds Cleanup Fiasco". Accessed Feb. 5, 2015
[click to view]

5. Sierra Club of Canada Fact Sheet: Sydney Tar Ponds Backgrounder. Accessed Feb. 5, 2015
[click to view]

3. The Sydney Tar Ponds Agency . Site accessed Feb. 4, 2015.
[click to view]

2. 2002 October Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development: Case Study 2.1—The Sydney tar ponds—One of Canada's largest and most contaminated sites. Accessed Feb. 4th, 2015.
[click to view]


Article from The Star regarding Supreme Court case
[click to view]

Other Documents

Sydney Steel Corporation (
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorLena Weber, Lund University Human Ecology Department
Last update18/03/2018