Political reps say 'yes' to JISCo dust control project

Political reps say 'yes' to JISCo dust control project

Editor at Large, South Central Bureau

Friday, April 03, 2020

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NAIN, St Elizabeth — Political representatives are giving a guarded thumbs up to efforts by JISCo Alpart Jamaica to contain dust pollution from the bauxite/alumina waste disposal area referred to locally as the 'red mud lake'.

“They (JISCo Alpart) have more work to do, but from what I have seen, the situation in March was a great improvement on how it was before,” Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth South Eastern Frank Witter (Jamaica Labour Party) told the Jamaica Observer by telephone on Tuesday.

Witter said that efforts by Jiuquan Iron and Steel (Group) Co Ltd (JISCo), since late December, to control the dust from the 660-acre mud lake using a mix of anti-dust “mesh” covering, dust suppressants, and huge volumes of water, appeared to have helped considerably.

And while noting that “up to Sunday” there were “dust problems, [caused by] high winds”, for people in communities close to the mud lake, Councillor Layton Smith (People's National Party (PNP), Myersville Division), said it wasn't nearly as bad as it had been previously.

Like Witter, Smith said he thought the initiatives by JISCo were helping.

His constituents are not usually as badly affected by windblown dust from the mud lake, however, Member of Parliament for Manchester Southern Michael Stewart (PNP), reminded the Observer Tuesday night that they, too, have had severe dust issues.

He was relieved, however, that, “at long last”, JISCo Alpart had covered the source of their problem — large mounds of stockpiled bauxite ore in mining communities on the Manchester Plateau.

Stewart cautioned that JISCo Alpart will have to ensure that the “covering material” remains intact “and is not degraded, which would only lead to a return to dust problems”.

JISCo Alpart, Jamaica's largest bauxite/alumina operation, closed late last year for a modernisation and expansion project that was initially expected to last two years. That project is yet to begin and seems destined to be further delayed because of the COVID-19 crisis now being described as the globe's biggest challenge since World War II, which ended in 1945.

Since Alpart's closure last year, there have been repeated protests from people in nearby communities about windblown dust from the bone-dry surface of the waste disposal, red mud lake. On the Manchester Plateau — where mining is continuing and bauxite ore is being stockpiled awaiting the reopening of the plant — residents have also protested dust nuisance caused by huge mounds of ore.

Those closest to, and in the path of windblown dust from the waste disposal, red mud lake in Myersville, close to the alumina refinery at Nain, say contaminants cause them severe health problems as well as damage to their homes, water, crops, and domestic animals.

Down the years, successive owners of the more than 50-year-old refinery have spent heavily, compensating residents, following dust pollution from the mud lake as well as industrial emissions from alumina refining.

For many years, Alpart has also trucked water — at great expense — to people in neighbouring communities to compensate for polluted domestic water. Many people in St Elizabeth and the wider southern and central Jamaica rely on water harvested from rain and stored in large tanks.

The hope now is that the current anti-dust project being carried out by the current owners of Alpart, Chinese metals giant JISCo, will minimise to tolerable levels — if not completely eliminate — dust pollution from the mud lake which is formally referred to as Alpart's “Residue Disposal Area”.

It's also anticipated that JISCo's planned multibillion-dollar modernisation project for Alpart will reduce industrial emissions from bauxite/alumina refining to negligible levels.

In summarising efforts to combat windblown dust from the red mud lake, a JISCo release said in part: “Alpart has… taken a number of measures to gradually control the dust in [the residual waste disposal area], such as applying biological suppression material, water cannon, dust control mesh, installing large- and medium-sized sprinklers, laying, and adding temporary hoses. The measures ensure that some areas previously inaccessible are now being wet”.

A recent visit by the Jamaica Observer to the eastern fringe of the massive waste disposal area, south of the mothballed Alpart refinery, showed huge volumes of water being applied to keep the surface of the lake wet and thereby prevent dusting.

There were also areas of the lake covered by green anti-dust mesh and other artificial materials — all part of what is referred to as 'JISCo Alpart Residue Disposal Dust Control Project'.

Locals say that during periods of heavy rain, there is no dust from the red mud lake — only an unpleasant smell.

Efforts to get a timeline from JISCo Alpart as to when the current project will be completed, failed. However, authoritative sources say it is currently about 70 to 80 per cent complete.

JISCo sources and political representatives say public sector oversight bodies, including the National Environment and Planning Agency, Jamaica Bauxite Institute, and the health department, have been showing close attention to the dust control project on a “weekly” basis.

JISCo bought the Alpart refinery — which had been closed since 2009 because of the global economic crisis of that time — from Russian company UC Rusal in 2016.

As metal prices soared, the plant — said to be among the world's least efficient alumina refineries — was reopened in 2017 prior to planned modernisation.

It was eventually closed late last year to facilitate the modernisation and expansion programme, even as high operational costs and falling alumina prices made it unprofitable.

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