KINGSTON, Jamaica - The Government has announced that it will be taking a structured, systematic approach to protect the Rio Cobre in St Catherine from further chemical spills.
This assurance comes following the latest spill of caustic effluent from bauxite and alumina company, Windalco, into the Rio Cobre in St Catherine, resulting in a fish kill, which affected several species and also impacted other aquatic organisms.
In a release, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Senator Matthew Samuda said the powers that be will "put in place what is necessary to ensure it doesn’t happen again."
"There is no overnight fix and there are some steps being taken that we believe will significantly improve the security of the water supply between September and November,” Senator Samuda said.
The Minister was speaking with media representatives following a visit to the affected area in Ewarton, St Catherine, on Sunday, July 31.
Samuda led a high-level government delegation to the location to assess the environmental and social impact of the spill.
One of the strategies being put in place to address this issue is the establishment of a second Effluent Holding Pond and increasing the capacity of the old pond to prevent spillages of chemicals into the river.
This was the directive of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to Windalco, following another massive effluent leak in 2019, which also caused a fish kill.
“My understanding is that this project should be completed between September and November. This reservoir, we hope and we expect, based on assessments, would be sufficient to stop effluent flow in any large way into the river,” Samuda said.
The Minister, who has responsibility for the environment, said he is angered by the recent spill and expressed that he understands the citizens’ frustration at this recurring issue of contamination of the river. He went on to stress that significant and strong action will be taken to make sure that consequences for the leak are felt.
“We are not going to diminish the impact on the citizens here. This is devastating and I am saddened to see the impact on the farmers, the fisherfolk and those who need water for household use. This is a serious issue,” he stressed.
Samuda went on to reveal that the Government, through the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NCRA), holds an environmental performance bond of $115 million from Windalco, so that when there are breaches, and when there is an environmental impact, the Government can draw down on this bond to address the damage.
“We will be able to draw down significant sums to ensure that the cost is felt by the company and [ensure] that the money that the professionals need to do the remedial work is put in place. So, there will be consequences outside of the usual low fines,” he said, assuring citizens that if they fall ill due to the spill, they will be provided with the necessary support by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Those whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the spill will also receive government support through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry in the case of fisherfolk.
The Minister added that there are plans in place to provide trucked water for impacted citizens.