'We can't tek it nuh more'

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'We can't tek it nuh more'

St Elizabeth residents fed up with 'poisonous' dust from red mud lake

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor-at-large
South/Central Bureau

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

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NAIN, St Elizabeth — Over recent days, people living to the west of the bone-dry Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO)/Alpart bauxite-alumina waste, red mud lake at Myersville have been driven to the edge of despair by clouds of contaminated dust, carried on the wind.


Yesterday, when the Jamaica Observer visited Warminster, in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, overlooking the mud lake, the picture was evident of wave after wave of dust, lifting on the wind and sweeping towards the communities above.


“We don't know what to do,” one woman complained.


Residents told of their water — harvested from rain and stored in large concrete tanks — being “spoilt” by the dust; of crops being ruined; and sinus-related illnesses affecting children and adults.


One farmer told how four of his goats had developed “running belly” and died after eating grass covered in the “poisonous” dust.


“We are on the verge; humans next,” he said.


Bad as it was yesterday, residents said it was worse last Friday and Saturday, “with the whole place dark” under clouds of dust, extending, they claim, as far away as Malvern, at the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains.


At the entrance to the JISCO-Alpart plant in Nain, protesters who had gathered since early morning to insist the Chinese owners act to correct the situation, waited patiently for their representatives who had gone to meet with management.


After close to two hours, leaders, including Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth South Eastern Frank Witter (Jamaica Labour Party), Councillor Layton Smith (People's National Party, Myersville Division), and head of the Alpart Community Council Len Blake came out to report that progress had been made.


JISCO, they said, had agreed to revive a scheme to “evaluate and compensate” for damage to crops, et cetera, to provide medical care, and to send truckloads of drinking water to residents. That arrangement, they said, will resume today.


The long-standing arrangement was apparently suspended when bauxite/alumina production was shut down at JISCO/Alpart late last year.

That shutdown, which left more than 1,000 people without jobs, was intended to allow a two-year-long major rehabilitation of the more-than-50-year-old alumina plant, considered among the world's least efficient.


Witter said JISCO representatives had also given the assurance that a process of “bio-suppression”, along with traditional wetting using large volumes of water, was being used to combat the rising dust.


The long-term solution, said Witter, was for families in the path of the wind-blown dust to be relocated.


When that will be, no one seemed to know.


More than 100 families were on the “original list” from several years ago, to be relocated, Witter said.


Yesterday, locals were adamant that after years of “eating pollution” during alumina production, and even when the Alpart plant is closed, as is the case now, enough is enough.


“People want to be moved out of this nasty mess… we can't tek it nuh more…,” one man shouted.


Councillor Smith voiced an overriding worry.


If the dust was as bad as it was in mid-January, early in the usual annual dry spell, “what going to happen in February when the drought really set in and the wind get stronger?”


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