Once again, residents in the Rio Cobre area have raised an alarm about the massive number of dead fish in the river.
The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) was quick to condemn the incident, and Senator Matthew Samuda, minister with responsibility for the environment and climate change also responded quickly. To date, Windalco, which has been blamed for the spill, has not issued a statement, but according to Samuda, the company may face a financial penalty and be forced to replenish the environment performance bond the Government holds as fines are withdrawn for breaches. We expect Windalco, if culpable, to do better to stop the pollution. The company has been fined for similar breaches in the past.
Government has also pledged to conduct further studies on the development of the area and the impact of environmental plagues, such as toxins, which can harm plants and other organisms by seeping into land and waterways to contaminate habitats. Water used by residents for farming and other purposes will continue to be monitored and crop irrigation has been suspended. These measures are necessary, considering this is not the first time that spills have raised alkaline levels in the river too high for fish to survive.
Fish kills across the island are becoming problematic and court fines for breaches are too low to have any impact. The Rio Cobre river, like others in the island, is important to residents as many depend on the area for their livelihoods. Additionally, the sight and stench from dead fish must be repulsive to residents and visitors alike.
Rivers, seas, lakes, and oceans are vital to life and the food supply chain; they are part of the environment and can impact climate change. We must continue to sustain land, water, and air to keep the environment we live in healthy.
Toxic wastes and contaminants should be disposed of safely in order to minimise the harmful effects to wildlife and humans. Environmental breaches are mostly due to carelessness and a lack of proper controls driven by an urgency to make profits. Stiffer penalties are necessary, and can be used to fund environmental studies and repair the damage.
Safe handling of chemicals, toxins, and waste should be a vital part of any operation, regardless of industry.