NEPA serves enforcement notice on WINDALCO

NEPA serves enforcement notice on WINDALCO

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, October 19, 2019

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THE National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) yesterday served West Indies Alumina Company (WINDALCO) with an enforcement notice, following Tuesday's incident in which effluent from the bauxite plant allegedly seeped into the Rio Cobre, resulting in a possible fish kill.

NEPA said that based on its investigations so far, indications are that the spill from the effluent-holding pond at WINDALCO's plant at Ewarton may have caused the fish kill.

Senior manager for the environmental management subdivision at NEPA, Richard Nelson told the Jamaica Observer that while tests are not yet conclusive, the evidence so far points to significantly raised pH levels that could have led to the fish kill.

He explained that the spillover was aggravated by the consistent rains as the effluent pond had been overflowing for a number of days, and that although river levels had normalised there was increased alkalinity in the water.

In the meantime, he said WINDALCO has been ordered to cease the discharge, which was still occurring, clean up the area, and take measures to neutralise the water or bring it back to a normal state.

Nelson said NEPA's legal team was, meanwhile, examining the situation and that, notwithstanding the enforcement order, WINDALCO could face criminal liability under the Wild Life Protection Act and Section 12 of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act, which prohibits the discharge of effluent without a licence. “WINDALCO doesn't have a licence to discharge,” he noted, adding that the company could also be charged for damage to the environment.

The penalties range from $50,000 up to $100,000 under both pieces of legislation, but Nelson noted that there are other legal routes, such as civil claims.

Yesterday, Member of Parliament (MP) for St Catherine North Central Natalie Neita threatened to file a lawsuit against the bauxite mining company, on behalf of the residents who live along banks of the Rio Cobre in her constituency.

According to the MP, several persons had fallen sick after using water or eating fish from the contaminated river. She charged that WINDALCO had been careless with the disposal of its waste, and claimed that contamination of the river has been disastrous for several communities which depend on the water source for fishing and domestic use.

“This reoccurrence is now tantamount to carelessness on the part of the company. Persons have fallen ill from eating contaminated fish and swimming in the effluent-filled river,” Neita said.

At the same time, speaking with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust Suzanne Stanley expressed frustration over the continued reoccurrence of the environmental hazard in the Rio Cobre.

She alleged that there was an incident last month, as well as another in July of last year involving the company. “This is something the communities say are a regular concern for them. If it is a repeat occurrence, why hasn't this problem been fixed?” Stanley asked. She pointed out that NEPA has repeatedly taken enforcement action, but stated that this clearly was not enough and that legislation needed to be updated in order to effect more stringent measures.

WINDALCO, responding to the public concerns, said in a statement yesterday that through its environmental management programme and established protocols, it “continues to implement all required measures to secure the waterways from any kind of environmental impact”.

The company said this includes creating a raised bank to retard the flow of effluent leaving the facility; testing to ensure that values are in line with the NRCA standards; flushing of streams with fresh water at several different locations; and maximising efforts to curtail the excursion itself from the holding pond.

“The company is continuing monitoring activities to ensure that environmental standards are maintained,” it said.

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