Mon | Dec 18, 2017

Editors' Forum | JET fears for Jamaica's water and air quality

Published:Friday | October 6, 2017 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of Jamaica Environment Trust.
Anthony McKenzie, director of environmental management and conservation at the National Environment and Planning Agency.
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A Commonwealth Foundation-funded study on the air and water quality for the island of Jamaica has revealed a raft of worrying concerns, including high levels of air pollution, lack of regulations, and even where they are present, lack of implementation.

The study, which was done by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), titled 'Air and Water Quality Report for Jamaica', and presented at a Gleaners Editors' Forum yesterday, has stakeholders worried that the lack of environmental standards continues to threaten the health of the nation. Now, there is an urgent call for action before more Jamaicans become victims.

Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of JET, told the forum that the study was done following two previous ones involving communities affected by air- and water-quality issues.

 

LACK OF AGENCY COORDINATION

 

"We consistently found issues with air and water quality, and even where we had good regulations and guiding documents, implementation is what trips us up every time," McCaulay shared.

According to her, the study found that there was a lack of coordination between state agencies, and there is no explicit commitment to public education, thereby making it difficult for the public to get information.

A major concern of the environmentalist with 26 years' experience is the absence of accredited labs, including that of the major watchdogs and standards-setting agency, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).

She charged that all major waste-disposal sites in Jamaica were operating without licences for years, and issued permits are not adhered to, after which they expire.

The absence of motor vehicle pollutant standards has been on the long bench of conversation for decades, and to date, standards remain outstanding.

NEPA, McCaulay said, relied heavily on businesses to conduct its own testing.

... No legal drinking-water standards in Ja

Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), expressed shock that the Riverton Fire of 2015 - which led to a blanket of smoke covering Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine, and Clarendon, and a host of respiratory illnesses - was not deemed to have breached air-quality standards.

"We wondered if in fact it was the standards themselves, laws that needed review. And that is why we wrote this review, the Jamaicans for Clean Air and Water Project, because we wanted to look at the actual standards that guide whether or not air and water quality is safe for people to breathe and to drink," she explained at a Gleaners Editors' Forum at the media house's North Street office yesterday.

Four communities, namely Ewarton, Hayes, Bull Bay, and Port Morant, were targeted for the 'Air and Water Quality Report for Jamaica', presented at the forum.

On the issue of water standards, McCaulay expressed further shock that interim drinking-water standards have never been finalised, "so there are, in fact, no legal drinking-water standards in Jamaica".

She lamented that there was no way to prove the message that drinking-water standards were of a high quality from the National Water Commission (NWC). She also said that there was no bottled-water standard. While acknowledging that the NWC's message may be true, the absence of standards makes it unprovable.

 

NEPA WORKING TO BE ACCREDITED

 

"So we went through a process to make sure that the government stakeholders had a chance to review the findings and make their comments. The document was presented to the stakeholders and the community groups on March 15, 2017. The final draft was circulated to the agencies there for their written review. We received input from NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) but no one else," McCaulay said.

NEPA's representative at the forum, Anthony McKenzie, director of environmental management and conservation, said that JET and NEPA were partners and had years of relationship on environmental issues. He said that the agency accepted the findings and committed to working towards all-round improvements for standards.

He expected that NEPA's testing lab would be accredited by February 2018. All employees of the lab were university trained, he said.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com