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Tainted air


Carlos Atwell

Tainted air

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We see it every day – vehicles on the road belching thick, black smoke.
For many, not a second thought is given but where is this smoke going? What are the consequences to the environment and to our health?
The EYEWITNESS?team went out on the streets of Barbados to take a look at a few of the culprits. The team ventured in the Warrens area and spotted ill-maintained trucks and cars spewing black smoke into the atmosphere.
The main culprits were large trucks. However there were a few of them with hardly a wisp coming from their exhaust pipes – proof of well-maintained vehicles.
The team also contacted people interested in this issue, such as Kammie Holder, a director of the Future Centre Trust. In a release sent yesterday, he placed blame on the island’s leaders.
“Our ratio of action to pretty pronouncements would be weighted in the favour of action if they only believed what they read from their well-written speeches,”?he said.
“We must stop living greedily and selfishly and remember tomorrow belongs to future generations entrusted to us by our foreparents. The Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Transport and Works need to look at logical and sustainable solutions to control the spiralling increases in cars on our roads and the contingent health fall-out.” 
Holder, suggesting it may be time for Barbados to adopt a one-vehicle-per-family policy, said an assessment by the Economist Intelligence Unit of Britain ranked Barbados sixth in the world – and number one in the Western Hemisphere – for road network density, suggesting a correlation with Barbados’ number three ranking in prostate cancer, 13th in breast cancer, 13th in colon rectum cancer and ninth in lymphoma.
He said research had shown the fumes from diesel engines exhaust was also a cause of lung cancer, bladder tumours, eye irritation, headache, asthma and other lung diseases, heart disease, and possibly immune system problems.
“It makes no sense building more roads to accommodate an unsustainable vehicle population and then complain about increased respiratory ailments.
“Why doesn’t the Government publish a daily air quality index? Why don’t portable emission measurement systems exist in Barbados? To say that cost is a prohibitive factor would be an insult to logical thinking persons as a country’s health is its true wealth.
“Let’s not take the people’s health for granted as an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure and the Future Centre Trust will be steadfast in its clarion call for things environmental and for a sustainable development,” he said.
Holder said exhaust was made up of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and hydrocarbons – including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – as well as carbon, organic materials and traces of metallic compounds and sulphur oxide, which he said was emitted by motor vehicles burning fuel containing sulphur.
This point was also made by the chairman of the executive committee of the Association of Public Transport Operators, Morris Lee. Responding to the claim the main harmful emission culprits on the road were Public Service Vehicles (PSV), he said the blame should instead be placed on the quality of the diesel available in Barbados.
“PSVs represent less than half of a per cent of vehicles on Barbados’ roads so I don’t think it is fair to make the assumption they are the ones polluting the air. There are more than 140 000 vehicles on the road and 525 PSVs so you do the math. The real problem is the quality of our diesel.”
Lee said the diesel sold in Barbados was of low quality, adding that the Ministry of Energy was making an effort to have low sulphur diesel imported into Barbados by the middle of the year.
“This suggests to me that they too are concerned. The problem of harmful emissions is not a PSV problem but a national one,” he said.
Occupational hygiene specialist with REA Envirohealth International, Harold Oxley, said the problem was that Barbados had no set standards dealing with emission levels.
“Although you can see emissions, how can you say if it is above or below a limit when there is no limit? You can test any vehicle but without a standard all we can say is ‘yes, this vehicle is sending out various quantities of [chemicals]’,” he said.
Oxley said although certain chemicals which made up exhaust carry known health risks, it was impossible to speak on how they affected Barbadians as a whole. He said the best he could do is look at how indoor environments were affected.
“Generally, we do not find exhaust chemicals in offices, mostly cleaning agents although there have been occasions where we have found them – where the air conditioner is near a car park or loading bay,” he said.
Repeated efforts to contact the director of the Environmental Protection Department Jeffrey Headley over the course of weeks proved futile with several messages unreturned as the paper was told he was either in a meeting or just left the building.

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