Sat | Aug 19, 2017

NEPA to rework environmental permits for bauxite sector

Published:Sunday | February 12, 2017 | 2:00 AMTameka Gordon
Peter Knight, CEO of the National Environment and Planning Agency.

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) says it will have to revise the wording of some environmental permits to ensure a clearer interpretation of the reporting responsibilities of the entities it monitors.

This follows a recent incident in which the Clarendon-based alumina refinery, Jamalco, came under fire from residents who say they have been affected by hydrate dust that blew from the refinery's site into the community. The residents complained at a meeting held on February 3 with the refinery's community relations team that the hydrate was polluting their community, causing health problems and damage to property.

The Jamalco representatives at the meeting advised residents that corrective measures would be implemented.

Hydrate dust is produced in the normal course of the refinery's operations. However, the substance has been documented to have adverse effects on humans and the environment.

NEPA told Gleaner Business that it had not been advised of the meeting. CEO of NEPA, Peter Knight, said Jamalco may not have reported the issue "because they did not consider it a pollution incident".

ROOM FOR INTERPRETATION

Knight said that based on the manner in which environmental permits are written, if the wind picked up hydrate dust particles and spread it across the community, that in the company's view may not constitute a breach.

He said NEPA would be reviewing the language of the permits to be issued to Jamalco and the wider bauxite sector, while acknowledging that the current wording does leave room for interpretation of what constitutes a breach.

"I want to make it clear that there is confusion as to how it is written. But the manager of enforcement is going to be writing to Jamalco and the wider industry, in general, to make it clear that under such circumstances, it is a pollution incident," Knight said.

The permits will be amended, he asserted.

"Our permits are very clear that where you have pollution incident it is to be reported. The fact that they had some dusting of communities and the foliage in the area and didn't report it, I have made it clear to them that they need to disavow themselves of that interpretation and in the future, incidents such as this should be considered and reported," Knight said.

Jamalco holds over nine permits issued by NEPA spanning different areas of its operations.

"Based on how the condition is written in the permit, only when there is a serious threat to public health and the environment, such as heavy dusting, then Jamalco reports it to us," said Knight.

Typically, communities in the environs of bauxite operations suffer some discomfort, but not all cases may be considered breaches of environmental permits, Knight said. For matters that do not warrant NEPA's intervention, the community relations arm of the company works with citizens to address the issues, and must log the complaints in a registry.

The refinery has not responded to requests for comment.

Knight said Jamalco's registry will be audited.

"They do report on matters such a spills and heavy dusting. But, what has happened was not considered a matter to be reported. We have said to them 'the fact that the wind took it [hydrate dust] up and it impacted on the environment and human health, it is pollution and is to be reported'. They are going to adjust their internal systems to deal with that," said Knight.

He further urged community residents to report such matters to NEPA to assist the agency with its monitoring of incidents.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com