Water truck warning! … Health ministry probe reveals petroleum tank converted to carry potable water; Opposition demands report be released to the public immediately
At least one petroleum tank was converted to transport potable water, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has revealed. At the same time, it noted that its investigation did not confirm reports that cesspool trucks were being retrofitted to supply water to communities across Kingston and St Andrew that were being severely affected by the water shortage.
Several months ago, concerns were raised about the safety of the precious commodity being trucked across the Corporate Area, with allegations that cesspool trucks were being retrofitted for such purposes. Calling it a public-health issue, stakeholders urged the health ministry to investigate the matter.
Last week, Everton Baker, director of environment health in the ministry, disclosed to The Sunday Gleaner that the three-month probe was complete. However, he would not reveal the details of the report.
After repeated requests for the findings of the investigation, which started in June, on Friday, the health ministry sent out a statement quoting Baker as saying: “While we were carrying out the investigation, one instance was found where a used petroleum tank was being used to transport water. In this instance, an immediate cease-and-desist order was issued and the tank brought in for testing. Containers that are previously used to store or transport petroleum and other hazardous materials are strictly prohibited.”
The statement failed to give further details, including the area where the petroleum tank was being operated, sanctions that were taken against its operator, and the possible health implications for those who may have ingested water from that particular truck.
It also failed to explain how the petroleum tank came to be used to supply potable water. It did, however, note that there was a slew of measures in place to ensure that trucks carrying potable water meet regulatory standards.
Further pressed, Baker said the investigation did not find that any cesspool trucks were being retrofitted to carry water, as had been alleged, but he would not give further details.
STRICT PROTOCOLS FOR TRUCKS
When questioned about the findings of the report, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton confirmed to The Sunday Gleaner that he was aware of the breach involving the petroleum tank but directed the newspaper to the health ministry for details of the report.
The ministry’s communication team, however, turned down requests for more details about the report, noting that the statement “summed up the findings”.
Tufton said that there were strict protocols for trucks that carry potable water.
“Based on our procedures of inspection, if water is being taken from institutions that are organised by the parish council or the NWC (National Water Commission), those trucks would have to demonstrate that they are certified to do so,” the minister explained, although admitting that not all suppliers followed the rules.
“If something is being illegally done from other sources, it is kind of hard to track. But if it is being done by the parish councils, which are normally the organised sources that pay for water for trucking, then we would ensure that those trucks are certified. But, yes, it becomes more challenging if people are doing it on their own.”
In May, at a Parish Disaster Preparedness and Public Health Committee meeting, councillors in the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation raised concerns about reports of cesspool trucks being retrofitted to take advantage of a boom in drinking-water delivery.
They also expressed anxiety about regulations surrounding the trucking of potable water and about an influx of water trucks in the municipality, while at the same time, there was a noticeable decline in cesspool trucks.
DIVULGE INFORMATION IMMEDIATELY
Yesterday, Opposition Spokesman on Health Dr Dayton Campbell said that details of the health ministry’s investigation into the matter were extremely important to Jamaica’s health and security and urged the Government to divulge the full report immediately.
“It is the duty of the Ministry of Health and the minister to make available to the public what their investigations would have unveiled and to provide the complete report so that the public, and certainly the Opposition, can peruse the document in detail,” Campbell told The Sunday Gleaner.
“It is not sufficient to just put out a release. We don’t know what is concealed or what is not carried in the release. We don’t know whether or not there have been any maladies that may have resulted from the use of that truck. We don’t know where it is, and we need further details.”
Listing adverse effects that can follow from the ingestion of toxic chemicals, the opposition spokesman said that it is even more imperative now that the public be informed, especially as the Government plans to have water trucked to schools that are affected by the water crisis as the new school year begins.
Last week, the Ministry of Education announced that at least 100 water tanks had been delivered to schools across the island, and Senator Pearnel Charles Jr, who has responsibility for water, gave the assurance that he had met with the relevant agencies to ensure that all schools are supplied with the precious commodity.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Health and Wellness is urging Jamaicans to take responsibility for their own health.
“We recognise that because of drought, there is an increase in the number of players transporting potable water to residents and the business community, however, consumers are reminded to be vigilant when receiving potable water,” Friday’s statement from the health ministry noted.
“Before water is received, consumers should observe whether or not the vehicle, including the water-holding containers, hose, and fittings, are clean. Consumers should also ensure that the water is not discoloured and that there is no odour or foreign matter in the water.”