Windalco to be prosecuted by NEPA following Rio Cobre spill
Dead fish seen along the bank of the Rio Cobre on August 30.

The National Environmental and Planning Agency (NEPA) has announced that bauxite company Windalco will once again be prosecuted for polluting the Rio Cobre, in St Catherine, last week.

A similar incident happened in 2019, in which NEPA brought Windalco before a court following a spill at the Rio Cobre.

CEO of NEPA, Peter Knight made the announcement on Friday afternoon during a media briefing that the company will be prosecuted.

“The country was made to witness and endure another devastating pollution incident along the Rio Cobre… regardless of the challenges the company faces, the agency is firm that the pollution incident cannot go unpunished, and that UC Rusal Windalco will be held responsible, accountable and prosecuted. We have called a meeting on Monday [August 8] and at that point we are also going to serve the legal instruments,” Knight said, noting that the Agency intends to draw-down on the environmental performance bond valued at US$771,558.69

“The serving of the Notice of Intention to Suspend is going to have a significant impact on the operations of the facility. We are also dealing with environmental performance bonds and we are dealing with the environmental permits that UC Rusal Windalco has that allows the company to undertake mining operations. How we pursue that is going to have an impact as to whether mining operations can take place,” he declared.

Knight also confirmed that as a result of its investigation the agency determined that “the UC Rusal Windalco Refinery located just outside Ewarton is the source of the pollution and contaminants that impacted the river.”

Although he was unable to give an accurate number of fishes killed as a result of the incident, Knight presented images showing an almost golden brown water with scores of dead fishes in bags and floating on the river banks. But, he confirmed NEPA should be in a better position next week to provide accurate data on the impact to the environment.

Siting the public outcry following the incident, Knight said the pollution caused tremendous impact and damage to the social and economic fabric of residents, businesses and communities, as well as, possibly impacting their health and welfare.

“Let me state categorically and openly that what occurred over the past eight days is totally unacceptable and UC Rusal Windalco will be made to answer for breaching the Wildlife Protection Act, and the Natural Resources Conservation Authority, as well as its environmental permits and environmental licences,” he said, adding that a high number of fishes were killed after thousands of litres of sodium hydroxide, popularly known as caustic soda were dumped into the Rio Cobre.

Knight let it be known that the Natural Resources Conservation Authority and NEPA have taken “aggressive and decisive regulatory actions against UC Rusal Windalco”.

“Actions were taken and the company mandated to add additional capacity to the present effluent boarding bond, which currently has a capacity of 821,000 cubic metre or 217 million US gallons to contain the trade effluent as required under the special regulatory oversight of this permit,” he stated.

Candice Haughton

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