THE National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has indicated that it will be launching an investigation into Caribbean Cement Company's mining operations in Bull Bay, St Andrew, following complaints by residents of environmental and health threats.
In an e-mail responding to questions from the Jamaica Observer, NEPA said it would be in contact with the citizens who made the complaints, as well as Carib Cement representatives for a site inspection to be carried out to see if there are breaches of environmental and planning laws.
NEPA said if what they found warranted it, enforcement action could come in the form of a cessation order under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act, which would compel the company to cease any polluting activity.
"If the polluter has a valid permit it can be suspended or revoked. This often has a deterrent effect as the permits and licences are often used by financial institutions as a pre-requisite to extending loan facilities to these companies. If it is deemed that this is not enough to stop the pollution, the Agency can take it a step further and serve an enforcement notice," NEPA's response detailed.
It said the enforcement notice would tell the facility not only to stop the activity, but to also take the necessary steps within a given time to remediate the polluted area. If all else fails, or if the incident is sufficiently serious, NEPA can proceed to prosecution and the courts. The maximum fine is $50,000.
Residents of Bull Bay say that the cement company, through its subsidiary company, Jamaica Gypsum and Quarries Limited (JGQ) — which supplies the company with the gypsum used in the manufacture of its cement — leaves the hills bare after mining, which leads to erosion of the hillsides. They say further that debris from the hillside washes into the river which could cause flooding. The residents also complain that the dust from the quarry causes respiratory and skin problems.
Although NEPA could not give specific instruction to Carib Cement before an investigation is done, it said broad action required to address any pollution and erosion issues that may be found would include ensuring that waste material on the site is removed and disposed of appropriately, that fugitive dusting is controlled by wetting the stockpiles frequently, and that methods are employed to prevent run-off of silt from the dumped waste material.
NEPA also said a detailed rehabilitation, reclamation or closure plan is required. Also, a geotechnical engineer should be retained to assist in determining which slopes are most susceptible to degradation and what the methods to reduce erosion from those slopes are.
"On a long-term basis a more sustainable watershed management initiative is required for the general area to arrest the levels of slope degradation," the agency said.
NEPA said an immediate area for reclamation is a waste material dump east of the quarry company's crusher which has been subject to severe erosion and is highly visible but also very accessible.
The cement company has a mining licence which prescribes conditions of compliance, including rehabilitation of mined-out sites.