UWI Wastewater Treatment Plant Disturbs Hermitage Residents
Introducing the community of Hermitage in St Andrew. It sits atop Bryce Hill, a road leading to August Town. It is quiet, safe and for many residents it is near perfect. It takes a University of the West Indies (UWI) student five minutes to get to classes, and for a University of Technology (UTech) student, the morning stroll from Hermitage to Papine is 10 to 15 minutes.
Walking through the community, one will be met by warm 'hellos' from women watering their lawns or men fixing their vehicles in their driveways. At nights, police are often seen patrolling the well-lit community as students and young professionals hustle to get home from school and work.
It is near perfect.
But beyond all the serenity, safety and smiles is a stench. It is a stench which Xandre Grant, a 24-year-old resident, says rises as early as the morning and is the first thing to greet him when he gets home in the evenings.
It is a stench which 45-year-old Gregory describes as obnoxious, and a stench which second-year UWI student Maurice describes as a foul odour that he has got used to.
It is a stench which comes from the UWI Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Located in Hermitage for more than 56 years, the plant treats waste from the university campus and the University Hospital of the West Indies.
Thirty-year-old Ricardo says the stench has always been a problem.
"I was born and raised in this community. We have been affected from day one. Really and truly, that sewage plant has done a lot of damage to the community. In my view, they should have put it on the UWI campus. They didn't put it there because they know that it is more detrimental than good. They didn't put it in Mona because those residents wouldn't accommodate that in their community."
One woman who rents her house to students has the same problem as Ricardo. Her house is located in front of the plant and is separated by only a wall. She admitted that she has threatened to call the public health inspector on several occasions if UWI doesn't address the problem.
"I have sent messages to their security personnel about some flies that are bred by the plant. Some little black flies. When it comes on to summertime the flies come over to my house and they stick to my wall and they even want to go up into your nostrils," she said. "As soon as they [UWI] come and fumigate it, the flies don't come. But sometimes they do not fumigate it and that is when it becomes a problem."
As if flies are not enough, the students who live in the house have to contend with rats.
"There are some rats that move back and forth between the sewage plant and our backyard. They have burrowed a hole through the wall that separates the house from the plant. And when I say rats I mean big rats. You can't leave the door open because they will come inside," said Hannif Spence, a UTech student.
But one officer at the UWI Estate Management Department, which manages the wastewater plant, said the infestation of rats may have been caused by the dumping done by residents at the sewage-treatment plant.
"I am not saying that rats can't be there. It is a large property which was once used by the community as a dump," said the officer who opted not to be named. "We actually asked them to desist and we erected a wall to stop the dumping so we could eradicate the rats. We have put razor wires on top of the wall and security guards at the entrance of the plant to prevent them from accessing the plant and stop residents from dumping faeces and garbage and everything that they have been dumping there. We know that flies are generated by the sewage-treatment plant so we have isolated the areas where flies are generated and have put new technology in place and it has improved."
He added: "Aside from that, we have also done a major upgrade of the plant where we have changed out the older units that usually cause additional odour and we have bought some multimillion-dollar equipment, and we are in the middle of a project to upgrade the entire facility," he added.
However, the students still complain about the unbearable stench given off by the plant.
"The scent is like rotten egg and it lingers for a while. It makes you nauseous and sick. I smell it some nights and in the days, too. It is basically an everyday thing. I have to keep my windows and door closed until it subsides," Hannif said.
Andrea Hardware, environmental health officer at UTech, said odour, rodent infestation and insects are common signs of a sewage plant that is not operating effectively.
"Rodents are a common nuisance that you will have at a sewage-treatment plant if it is not properly maintained.
"The practice of rodent control is necessary because you are likely to have an infestation of sewer or Norway rats. If you are getting an offensive odour that smells like hydrogen sulphide, what many persons call the 'rotten egg' smell, it means that the system is not being maintained at its optimum and the system is not healthy. The hydrogen sulphide odour could become a respiratory irritant; people may have headaches and nausea."
Kim, a first-year UWI student, says that this 'rotten egg' smell has been impacting her health.
"It makes me feel bad, my sinuses drain and I get sick all the time because of it. No one cares about it. I have never seen anyone come and ask about it. Sometimes, I get group work at school and my classmates want to come over and do the work here but the scent is a great inconvenience," she said.
Some of the Hermitage residents who spoke with The Sunday Gleaner were covering their noses and spitting as the scent from the plant hovered over the community.
"Why does this plant have to be in our community?" is the question that many residents want answered.
"NEPA has not excluded these plants from communities, according to their guidelines. But if they have to build it there, consideration has to be given to how the plant would be configured to minimise the impact on the host community. Because with a sewage-treatment plant you are going to have odour and that is one of the biggest things, you would have to make sure that the facility is maintained using aerobic treatment (with oxygen) instead of anaerobic (without oxygen)," Hardware explained.
She said the machine that processes the waste should always be in motion and the problem occurs when the machine is turned off.
"Once the system stops working, a type of bacteria that does not use oxygen during processing grows, but when the system is up and running it encourages the growth of oxygen-loving bacteria that do not give off an odour when processing takes place. If it stops, if something breaks down or if they turn it off to save electricity then the bacteria grows. When they turn it back on and it starts to run, that is when you get the odour," she added.
But the officer at the UWI Estate Management Department said this is not the situation at the UWI's wastewater treatment plant.
"The systems never stop working. We work right throughout the day. The odour they smell is an environmental issue because of the temperature. When you have a situation where the odour comes up it means we need to do more to improve the mixing because sometimes some areas are not mixed properly. The project we are doing now, which will be completed in August, should eliminate all those issues permanently."
Hardware said residents can contact the health department in their parish to report problems they may have with wastewater treatment plants. She further stated that if the nuisance persists, a cease-and-desist order can be issued.
But some residents of Hermitage, like 45-year-old Gregory, have lost hope.
"I have learned how to accept it, because I still smell it, but it is like I am used to it now."