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Another Windalco spill threatens Rio Cobre

BY COREY ROBINSON Sunday Observer reporter robinsonc@jamaicaobserver.com
Sunday, July 22, 2012

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) was last night investigating another effluent spill, reportedly by the West Indies Alumina Company (Windalco), that affected sections of the Rio Cobre.

Natalie Fearon, manager of public education and corporate communications at NEPA, last night confirmed the incident. Fearon, however, could not state the areas that were affected or the time the spill had occurred.

"I can confirm that there was a spill of effluent from Windalco today but I don't have the details of what happened," she said. "I can confirm, however, that NEPA teams, enforcement teams, our laboratory teams are all responding."

The bauxite facility has a permit to release the fluid, but it has to be treated to a certain extent, said Fearon.

Asked whether the spilled effluent had met this criteria, Fearon replied: "I'm not sure; right now details are very preliminary. We will have to access the situation and then report back."

She noted, however, that Windalco had been making efforts to contain the spill.

Yesterday, residents told the Sunday Observer that the affliuent had affected sections of the river in the vicinity of Ewarton — where the Windalco plant is located — leading into Bog Walk.

Yesterday's spill followed another on July 15 when some 62,500 gallons or 250,000 litres of untreated trade effluent was reportedly released into the Pleasant Farm Gully, which leads to the Rio Cobre. It caused the pollution of the river and forced the National Irrigation Commission to shut down operations there, and the National Water Commission to shut down its intake from the river into the Spanish Town treatment plant.

NEPA served notice on Windalco following that incident.

Yesterday, Fearon expressed concerns regarding the frequency of the spills but declined to make an official comment on the incidents.

"We have to treat each incident in terms of a pollution incident, but in terms of a holistic view on it, that is something that I would have to leave for our executives to discuss and make a statement on," she said.

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