National Focus

Potential health risk faced by industrial area residents

by: Published Thursday, December 1, 2016

There is a “potential” health risk for families living in the Industrial Park area of Grand Bahama. This factor was acknowledged in a media release sent out by the Ministry of Grand Bahama.

 

Responding to the escalating controversy related to allegations about health dangers in the Industrial Park Area, the Ministry of Grand Bahama, on Wednesday released the final report of the Environment and Health Risk Assessment and emphasized the efforts of the government to bring a solution to the long-running issue.

 

According to the Ministry of GB’s release, the country’s Charter of Governance has weighed heavily into the situation.

 

“The Charter for Governance states: ‘In further recognition of the peculiar hardship faced by the people of East and West Grand

 

Bahama, the responsibilities of the Minister (for Grand Bahama) will specifically include the proposed relocation of the residents of Lewis Yard and the surrounding areas.’

 

To that end, shortly after assuming office, The Minister for Grand Bahama assigned a project officer specifically to the oversight of this mandate, and began initial consultations with stakeholders involved, including Bertram Pinder and Ambassador Maurice Moore, principles of The Pinder’s Point, Lewis Yard Environmental Committee; as well as Nakira Wilchcombe, Environmental Manager at The Grand Bahama Port Authority, Mike Wallace (now deceased), former Public Analyst, and Bertha McPhee Duncanson, Officer in Charge of the Department of the Environmental Health Services, informed Wednesday’s detailed statement.

 

Point one of the final report, states specifically that “there is a health risk associated” with chemicals residents become exposed to.

 

Following is the media release from the Ministry of Grand Bahama in its entirety:

  

It  soon became evident that a number of studies were initiated in the past, and  although there was anecdotal evidence that supposedly supported the claims of the residents that proximity to the industrial park has negatively affected their health; there was no conclusive scientific study done, to substantiate these claims, or otherwise. 

 

As a result, the government contracted The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), an internationally acclaimed public health agency with over 100 years of experience working to improve health and living of persons around the world; and The World Health Organization (WHO), whose primary role is to direct international health within the United Nations' system and to lead partners in global health responses, to carry out a comprehensive, independent Environment and Health Risk Assessment of Lewis Yard,  Pinder’s Point and the surrounding settlements, to determine, if any, the effects of  exposure to hazardous chemicals, to the environment and health of individuals in the residential areas, bordering the Freeport Industrial Park, on Grand Bahama.

 

Throughout the course of the study, three town meetings were held with the residents of Pinder’s Point, Lewis Yard and the surrounding areas to inform them of its progress. The team of scientists from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, which were subsequently engaged by PAHO/WHO, also met individually with residents to hear concerns and further apprise them of the process.

 

The independent, scientific study, which began on December 4, 2014 was concluded in November, 2015.  The results of the study were presented to the government in the form of a 60 page report. A town meeting was held for residents of these settlements, during which PAHO/WHO representatives fully explained the final report, its findings, conclusions and recommendations. A full copy of the report can be retrieved from the Facebook page of The Ministry for Grand Bahama. 

 

The final report of the Environment and Health Risk Assessment consisted of five major conclusions:

 

1. During the monitoring period, and based on air and water sampling, no evidence was found of harmful chemical exposure on a day to day basis in the affected residual areas under review.  There is, however, a potential health risk associated with incidental, or periodic releases of chemicals from the industrial area.

 

2.    Based on analysis of available health records extending over 25 years, no evidence has been found that cancer rates are higher in the studied population than in other areas of Grand Bahama.

 

3. Based on analysis of health records extending over 25 years, there is a downward trend in hospital visits by residents of affected areas related to respiratory disorders.

 

4. There exists a potential safety risk for the people living in Pinder’s Point and Lewis Yard being located close to the industrial area.

 

5. There is no independent environmental monitoring system in place, which means that existing warning systems may be unreliable and that available data on the environmental risk is incomplete.

 

As a result of these conclusions, two primary recommendations were made in the report. The government is making significant strides to ensure that each is carried out.

 

The first recommendation was for an independently run and year-round environmental monitoring system be put in place. As a result, The Ministry for Grand Bahama sought the services of Common Invent, who provided a proposal for the installation and commissioning of an eNose odor monitoring network, to monitor incidental releases, create an early warning system for accidental spills, trace the source of incidental emissions and spills.

 

This proposal was presented and approved by the government. Resultantly, the hardware, which includes 20 solar powered and four wind vanes were mounted on existing power poles in the settlements bordering the Freeport Industrial park in August, 2016. While on island, the Common Invent group completed an initial training exercise for personnel of the Department of Environmental Health Services, The Grand Bahama Port Authority and The Ministry for Grand Bahama; and met with industry representatives. 

 

At present, the team from Common Invent are monitoring the eNose system.  On January 10 and 11, 2017, representatives from Common Invent  will  return to facilitate in depth training with all stakeholders, including the principles of the Pinder’s Point Lewis Yard  Environmental Committee.  Following  this, all trainees will have access to the system; and be able to observe this eNose monitoring network, which has been described as a powerful proactive management tool for odor, health and safety control for the responsible authorities.

 

The second recommendation by PAHO/WHO was for a professional safety assessment, relative to the potential threat of fires, quakes, hurricanes, and explosions, to the communities of Pinder’s Point and Lewis Yard and the surrounding areas to be performed; in order to determine if relocation of residents is to be considered.

 

The Antea Group, an international engineering and environmental consulting firm specializing in full-service solutions in the fields of environment, infrastructure, urban planning and water, was highly recommended by PAHO/WHO representatives.  This group was contracted by the government to perform an independent safety assessment. This project, which has a 13 week schedule, was set to commence at the beginning of  November, 2016, but was postponed following the passage of Hurricane Matthew. We were assured by the Antea Group that they will be in a position to commence the safety assessment on or before the second week of January.

 

The Minister for Grand Bahama has apprised residents of the government’s steps toward implementing the recommendations. We  have  remained in constant dialogue with all stakeholders involved, and are optimistic that the independent safety assessment will bring answers to the remaining questions.

 

We wish to reassure the residents of Pinder’s Point, Lewis Yard and the surrounding areas that this administration is investing much time, effort and resources to make certain that you and your environment  remain safe and healthy.

 

Published Thursday, December 1, 2016 

 

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