Windalco blamed for second fish kill in a year; served with enforcement notice


Friday, July 20, 2012    

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FOR the second time in less than a year, the West Indies Alumina Company (Windalco) is at odds with the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) over a fish kill at the Rio Cobre in St Catherine.

The most recent event, NEPA said, took place on July 15 when some 62,500 gallons or 250,000 litres of untreated trade effluent was reportedly released into the Pleasant Farm Gully.

The agency said the release of the untreated effluent caused the pollution of the river and the fish kill, prompting the National Irrigation Commission to shut down intake from there and the National Water Commission to shut down its intake into the Spanish Town treatment plant.

As a result, NEPA has served an enforcement notice on the bauxite company.

"The notice was served; I am just coming from there," NEPA's director of legal services and enforcement Robert Collie told the Jamaica Observer yesterday afternoon.

Windalco, for its part, has opted to remain silent on the matter.

"The company is declining to comment," said Kayon Wallace, senior information and public affairs officer with Windalco, in an e-mail response to questions from the Observer on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Collie said the notice demands that, in accordance with Section 18 of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act, the company "immediately cease to discharge the effluent into the environment from their east effluent pool at Windalco, Ewarton works".

Further, he said it requires that the company:

* make arrangements to deal with community relations for the areas affected by the emergency event;

* advise the community of these events and address the concerns of the potential impact of the discharge on the waters;

* effect immediate rehabilitation of the areas affected by the discharge; and

* submit a compliance plan to mitigate against any future recurrence of spills.

"The plan should include, but not be limited to, handling any repercussions from the discharge of untreated trade effluent from the Windalco plant," Collie noted.

Asked whether a closure of the plant would impact in any way NEPA's action against Windalco, the agency's lawyer said no.

"The law is pretty clear. The obligation of the polluter would continue irrespective of whether there has been a change of ownership or whether the facility has closed down — so long as the activity has an environmental impact that can affect natural resources or public health," Collie said.

The extent of the environmental impact of the trade effluent's release was not immediately clear, according to NEPA's manager of corporate communications and public education Natalie Fearon.

"We are continuing our investigations. We actually had our guys from the lab out there [Wednesday]," she said.

Windalco is still before the court on charges related to the fish kill at the Rio Cobre last year. That fish kill saw the company charged for discharging into a river containing wildlife a noxious substanc e, contrary to Section 11 of the Wildlife Protection Act.

They were also charged for discharging or causing to be discharged trade effluent into the environment without permission, in contravention of Section 12(1) of the NRCA Act. That matter is to be tried in the Spanish Town Resident Magistrate's Court on November 19.



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