Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Rio Cobre back to normal after contaminated water from Windalco

Published:Friday | August 3, 2018 | 12:00 AMSyranno Baines/Gleaner Writer
Youngsters take a swim in the Rio Cobre in the Zephyrton community in Linstead, St Catherine, where the water was discoloured on Sunday. The NEPA confirmed yesterday that the discolouration was caused by contaminated water from Windalco bauxite plant.

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) yesterday revealed that an overflow of contaminated storm water from the nearby West Indies Alumina Company (Windalco) property in Ewarton caused the discolouration that was observed in a tributary of the Rio Cobre in Linstead, St Catherine, on Sunday.

According to Richard Nelson, senior manager of the agency's environmental management subdivision, once there is rain, the storm water run-off from Windalco's compound is likely to be contaminated with sodium hydroxide, a strongly corrosive and irritating substance.

Nelson noted that to prevent any major impact on the environment from this run-off, Windalco had in place two systems so that whenever it rains, all the storm water would be diverted to these collection points and then pumped back into the plants for reuse.

However, Nelson said that investigation by NEPA revealed that on Saturday, there was so much rain in a short period that the system was overwhelmed by the amount of water.

"So the excess run-off went into a seasonal gully, and this seasonal gully eventually emptied into the tributary, where the residents complained of seeing the discolouration," he explained.

"I wouldn't say it's deliberate, but it's something the agency will be looking into to see what can be done to prevent a reoccurrence. When they realised [the breach], based on our investigation, they started to do whatever was required of them to address the problem," Nelson told The Gleaner.

He continued: "The other thing is that the tests that we carried out showed that the river returned to normality within 24 hours. It happened on Sunday morning, and by Monday in the day, all test results showed that the river had returned to normality, which means that although there was some contamination, there was not a severe impact.

"We didn't observe any fish kill. It was only reported that there was a fish kill," Nelson stated.