RESIDENTS of Bull Bay in St Andrew, fearing a repeat of a 2002 flood which displaced several families in the area, are furious about what they believe are careless actions by Caribbean Cement Company which pose a threat to their environment and their health.
The residents have complained that the company's mining and quarrying denude the hillsides above their community, leaving behind loose silt and other debris which wash into the Bull Park River when it rains, causing flooding.
They are frustrated that despite continuous dialogue with the company, not much seems to be happening to take care of the problems.
"Right now, we are saying we are not going to sit down and allow the thing to just spiral out of control, knowing what happens when you don't do anything about it," said Anthony Stewart, who was raised in the community. He said heavy debris that is displaced by the rock quarry makes its way into the waterway, builds up and eventually chokes it.
He said the cement manufacturer, through subsidiary Jamaica Gypsum and Quarries Limited (JGQ), is removing boulders in the hills above the Jack's Vale section of the community. Although they have been told in meetings with the company that benching and tree planting will be done to minimise erosion, they have not seen evidence of this happening.
Stewart also said they have observed that the company's waste material, known as tailings, has been dumped in close proximity to the river and waterways.
"We are taking steps to ensure that the cement company understands that this isn't business as usual and they are going to have to address our problems. What is going to be their mining process to ensure that when they start to quarry, they deposit their waste in such a way that it does not find its way so easily into the river?" he asked.
Stewart said the issue is compounded by the fact that residents are heavily dependent on the river for domestic purposes as the community's piped water supply is unreliable. Also, he complained that dust from the trucks used by the company to transport material is a major cause for concern.
"This is a dust bowl. When you come to this community in January during the dry period, then you are going to say, 'My God, these people are animals, how do they live in this dust?'" he exclaimed.
Norma Powell, who has been living in Bull Bay since 1976, told the Jamaica Observer that she, too, is concerned about the health risks the dust poses for residents.
"Is a very big issue. You see right now, if the breeze start blow, we can't sit out here when the dust start kick up. All them kids here, some little things come out on their skin and in their heads, and sore throat and sore eye and all dem ting deh," she said. To illustrate, one of her neighbours lifted a young girl's shirt to reveal spots on her skin that they believe to be caused by the dust.
Powell also complained about the river being polluted and said she wanted the company to assist residents to deal with the implications of the work it does in the area.
"Is di only mining area where we not getting not even a $10 fi go doctor. Plenty old people and children live around here. We don't want any handout from them, but just do something for di people dem," she said, claiming that for years she had attended meetings with the company to discuss steps to address their problems. She eventually stopped attending after seeing none of the prescribed remedies.
"Me nah live long, you know, but you see dem little one here, dem mi a push for because dem feeling the effect just like myself," she said.
Danielle Andrade, legal director at the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), said the non-governmental organisation, after touring the area twice, is seeking funding for a project to assist the Bull Bay community tackle environmental problems related to Caribbean Cement's quarrying operations.
"Some of the things that we would love to see Carib Cement do, and that we'd love to see done through this project, is improvement in the access to information about their quarrying operations, access to monitoring reports to see if they are in compliance with their permits, and access to information about proposed quarries," Andrade said.
She said when JET visited the area last year, it identified indiscriminate dumping of tailings which had blocked the river course. There was an obvious lack of rehabilitation of the mined-out areas and although she said there had been some improvement by their second visit, it was not enough.
"We'd like to see rehabilitation occurring at a much speedier rate than it's occurring right now. We think rehabilitation efforts are moving quite slowly in the community," she said.
Andrade said the project would also involve training the residents to get water samples for water quality testing so they could do their own monitoring of pollution levels.
"What we would like to see is a clear plan for rehabilitation; a specific timeline and remedial efforts to deal with the dumping of mining waste, which may potentially lead to serious environmental problems for the community," Andrade said.
However, Lystra Sharp, public relations officer at Caribbean Cement, speaking on behalf of the company in response to queries from the Sunday Observer, denied that waste material is being stored in close proximity to rivers or waterways.
"All waste are being carefully stored away from streams to be used as backfill in the mined-out pits in the quarry. Some of these [waste material] are also being used in the cement manufacturing process. Through it all, Carib Cement ensures that the water channel below is kept clear at all times," Sharp stated in an e-mailed response. She said the company, in association with the National Works Agency, annually cleans the Bull Park River at a cost of $15 million.
Sharp said the company's mining activities are being done in compliance with, and as stipulated by, the Commissions of Mines and includes benching of slopes to mitigate the movement of material during rainfall. She noted that the residents practise slash and burn for coal, which contributes to soil erosion and silting of the rivers and streams.
She also indicated that the company does not own the trucks which do the haulage of material through the community, but rather that they are contracted. She said these contractors are mandated to properly cover their trucks on leaving the quarry. At the same time, Carib Cement wets the roads daily to reduce the potential for dust nuisance.
However, residents remain frustrated.
Frederick Williams, who has lived in the community for 36 years, feels hopeless about the problems ever being addressed.
"I can't say anything a go change, still, you know, because so long mi live here and I don't see any changes," he said.
Another concern expressed by residents is that Bull Bay All-Age school cannot provide a safe haven from the dust nuisance that they deal with either.
Acting principal of the school Palmeta Fuller said both staff and students suffer from asthma, sinusitis and various bronchial conditions as a result of the dust.
Fuller further said that sometimes the silt coming from the quarry in the hills blocks the drains in the schoolyard, which causes floodwater to accumulate when it rains. However, she quickly added that sometimes the school ends up having to call the cement manufacturers to use their heavy equipment to clear the blockage and that "they come in, sometimes".
"We don't complain all that much because we were donated this property by the company so we work along with them," she said.