IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: St Lucy folk too long in misery
IT IS WITH SOME RELUCTANCE that I return to the issue of the Arawak Cement Company in St Lucy, the concerns of people living around that facility and the role of the state in protecting the environment and the health of citizens.
Before some apologist jumps on my back, let me declare up front that I accept that the company produces cement and not candy. Cement is not play dough – it is a fine substance that can be hazardous if not handled properly. Producing it can also be a dirty process.
The marl quarry that Arawak opened last year at Bromefield is really no different from the dozens of other quarries that various construction firms operate all over this country. Digging for marl produces dust. Those who work in the quarries wear dust masks every day or operate trucks and tractors with sealedair-conditioned cabins for their own protection.
When an individual decides to set up a business or home nearby or downwind of a quarry, he would be less than reasonable if he did not expect to be negatively impacted by the dust, noise and any other associated factors. By the same token, the operator of a quarry would be just as unreasonable if he started up operations upwind of a community and made absolutely no provision for the environmental hazard the dust would create.
And that quite simply is my problem with Arawak Cement Company. Last week I spent less than a day at Bromefield talking to those who were complaining. I consider myself reasonably tough and healthy. I don’t have a history of missing work due to illness, however, for three days after my Bromefield visit I was literally out of commission.
Think about it folks: I was just passing through. Those people live there every day. Is it any wonder they complain about respiratory challenges, fluid in the lungs, nosebleed, chronic sinusitis and so much more?
Setting the standards
But should the environmental standards employed by Arawak be determined by its management or directors? When a company is given permission to quarry how much time is allowed to elapse between the granting of permission and the start of extraction? If there is such a stipulated time, is the entity required to reapply if that time elapses?
Are there rules indicating how close to a community quarrying can occur? Are there regulations requiring the erection of barriers to control dust before mining commences?
What about air quality monitoring? Is the party doing the quarrying required to conduct such sampling and how often? Is there a state agency mandated to test air quality and act when it perceives the health of persons might be at risk?
Do persons who believe their health is being hurt have any legal redress? How easy or hard would it be for them to get an injunction from the High Court barring all mining operations until the operator can demonstrate that he has instituted reasonable mitigating measures?
And finally, what ought to be the role of the Member of Parliament in such matters.
The repeated declaration by Bromefield resident Olivia Thornhill that Arawak’s management was always polite and apologetic has not been lost on me, but apologies don’t stop an individual from coughing up blood after prolonged exposure to dust from a quarry.
When I questioned Arawak on this matter last week, they were quick, as with Thornhill, to respond and express “concern about the current reports of dust”. They promised to irrigate the roads in the area, admittedly a major cause of irritation when the trucks are moving.
Arawak also promised to plant trees as a barrier. That’s smart and should help, but how many years will it take before the trees are tall enough to block those massive dust clouds? Who will determine where they are planted and how many? Arawak? In the interim, shouldn’t Arawak be required to set up an artificial fine mesh barrier along the entire length of the quarry to an appropriate and effective height?
Sorry, I am not very sympathetic because Arawak would have known for years when their previous quarry would become exhausted. They had years to plant their tree barrier in preparation for the shift of operations to Bromefield.
Arawak also announced that during this month and June it would be cleaning the homes of people in Bromefield: Will this be a one-off cleaning? Will they return weekly to clean until their mitigation measures are deemed effective?
And is the clear admission that their dust is negatively impacting the lives and health of the residents, also an acceptance of liability for all the money these poor people have spent on doctor visits and medication since the quarry opened.
There is also the other issue of the dust and ash from the actual cement plant that has been raining down on Checker Hall, Maycocks and Bromefield residents for decades. Arawak says it is spending $4 million on a new “dust collection system” that will reduce emission by 95 per cent.
I applaud the current management on this, but in my view it is nothing short of unneighbourly and immoral that residents have had to suffer for so long. Our archives – and I suspect Arawak’s filing cabinets as well – are filled with reports from complaining residents but very often never so much as an acknowledgement from the management.
I know because as a journalist I have covered Arawak from the groundbreaking. I was there with Fred Brome-Webster as project manager, when Tom Adams visited during construction, when representatives of the Trinidad government dropped in, when Britain’s Royal family paid an official visit, when industrial action plagued construction and the police had almost permanent residence there; when attorney Bobby Clarke and his BIGWU trade union kept a lot of noise on- and off-site.
Arawak has been a poor neighbour and corporate citizen for too long. I sincerely hope this new management is signalling a positive change through its statement last week and its conduct.