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Call for tougher penalties as Rio Cobre fish kill heads to court

Published:Saturday | October 19, 2019 | 12:11 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

Stronger regulations and tougher enforcement are required to bring an end to environmental breaches, says Suzanne Stanley, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET).

Stanley has thrown her support behind the legal action being pursued by St Catherine North Central Member Parliament Natalie Neita against the West Indies Alumina Company (Windalco) on behalf of her constituents who live along the banks of the Rio Cobre.

Several persons have fallen ill after using water or consuming fish from the river that has been reportedly contaminated by effluent from the bauxite company’s property on Wednesday, causing a massive fish kill.

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has identified the bauxite company as the source of the problem.

Stanley told The Gleaner that NEPA has indicated that Windalco’s holding ponds have overflowed and have entered the tributaries leading to the Rio Cobre.

“This is a recurring problem, and Ms Neita’s indication that legal action will be taken is a reasonable response. It is a long-standing problem associated with the bauxite plant in the area,” Stanley said.

Stanley noted that it was clear that the capacity of the plant’s holding ponds was inadequate to deal with the waste generated at the plant, especially after heavy rainfall.

“There needs to be a comprehensive review of these fines and penalties associated with these incidents.

“If this is a repeat offender, this cannot be a warning situation. By no means is this an isolated incident. We have passed the point of warning,” Stanley said.

In response, Windalco said that while NEPA and other regulatory agencies were conducting investigations, it has continued to implement all required measures to secure the waterways from any kind of environmental impact.

“These include creating a berm to retard the flow of effluent leaving the facility; testing to ensure that values are in line with the National Resources Conservation Authority standards; flushing of streams with freshwater at several different locations; and maximising efforts to curtail the excursion itself from the holding pond,” according to a statement issued yesterday.