HEALTH CRISIS

HEALTH CRISIS

Vaz worried that dust nuisance from JISCo/Alpart plan could leave several people sick

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, February 15, 2020

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MINISTER with responsibility for the environment Daryl Vaz has described the dust nuisance facing residents of communities around the Jiuquan Iron and Steel (Group) Co Ltd (JISCo)/Alpart plant in St Elisabeth, as a health crisis.

“It is an absolute crisis [with] what is happening down there as a result of the temporary closure of JISCo,” Vaz told a media briefing yesterday, 24 hours after he toured communities near the plant.

“I met with the senior Jamaican management, along with all of the agencies which are involved, as a result of the dust nuisance which is coming from the 650-acre 'mud lake', as we call it.

“What is happening is that as a result of the drought, there has been no rain on that side since December 10, and with the high winds that we get from time to time, there are several dust events that have taken place… and it is an absolute health crisis as it relates to the residents,” added Vaz.

On Thursday, Vaz announced that under a scheme worked out by the management of JISCo, some 1,200 residents are to share $40 million as compensation for the disruption in their normal lives because of the dust.

But yesterday Vaz made it clear that the compensation package was not the end of the Government's involvement in the matter.

“I want to reassure the communities that this is something that the Government will be pursuing to find a solution with JISCo…that we can get the mud lake and keep it wet during this period of closure until they invoke new technologies and new equipment in their reopening plan.

“But just to say it is something that is at the top of my list as a priority and I am committing to the residents that I will continue to monitor it personally, and to ensure that we do what we can do as soon as possible,” declared Vaz.

On Wednesday, Sun Jong, managing director of JISCo/Alpart, told a visiting delegation from the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) that among the company's long-term plans to reduce dust pollution is the planting of a grass cover for the mud lake.

According to Sun, even more critical — for the cleaner and more efficient operation of the plant — is the now delayed modernisation process for which it was closed late last year.

The company is also to introduce an upgraded sprinkler system to dampen the dust and address an uncovered stockpile of bauxite ore that is affecting communities in southern Manchester.

The communities affected include Myersville, Upper and Lower Brinkley, Alvalley, Upper and Lower Warminster, Northampton, and Austin, among others.

Chinese metals giant JISCo bought the Alpart refinery from Russian company UC Rusal in 2016.

The 52-year-old plant was closed late last year to facilitate modernisation and expansion as high operational costs and falling prices for alumina on the world market made it unprofitable.


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