Tue | Jan 26, 2021

Letter of the Day |Puerto Bueno is more than an environmental issue

Published:Thursday | November 26, 2020 | 12:05 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

ALLOWING A quarry at Puerto Bueno Mountain is more than an environmental issue. It is also a human-rights issue – the right to a safe and healthy environment in which to live. As a physician, I am deeply concerned about the health impacts of this development. The potential negative health effects on quarry workers as well as local residents make it inappropriate to allow a quarry across the street from a residential area.

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) had concluded correctly that “the development will exacerbate the air quality impacts on the airshed. Also, the development may have a deleterious impact on public health, particularly from dust and noise generation”.

Breathing clean air matters to everyone’s health. Poor air quality consistently ranks among the top risk factors for death and disability in the world. Whether you are rich or poor, young or old, live uptown or downtown, this is true.

It’s not just a little dust! What about limestone dust which can cause health issues?

Limestone quarrying and its associated activities – blasting, crushing, loading, transporting, and unloading – are well-documented sources of particulates, which are incredibly small and invisible to the naked eye. They are considered pollutants by both the World Health Organization and the US Environmental Protection Agency and are known to be associated with serious health effects.

Inhaling limestone dust has many effects ranging from irritation of the nose and sinuses, with coughing and sneezing, to bronchitis, and worsening asthma and emphysema. Long-term exposure can lead to incurable and irreversible lung disease and may even cause cancer. Some particles may even get into the bloodstream and can worsen heart disease.

Many workers in quarries are totally unaware of the risk to their health. Non-workers suffer consequences, too. These invisible particles are easily carried by the wind and can travel hundreds of miles from the source. The closer to the quarry, the higher the risk, which is why quarries are not placed in residential zones.

HIGHEST RISK

People with heart or lung disease, children, and older adults are at the highest risk of disease from air pollution. One should note that most of the people in Puerto Bueno are elderly, many retirees, and there is the Rio Bueno Primary School in the dust path of the proposed quarry.

Despite all the talk of steps to mitigate the effects of the quarry, realise that mitigate just means ‘to reduce’. It is not possible to get rid of all the dust and noise generated from this project, especially considering the burden the community already bears from the nearby Noranda bauxite operation. Also, a project that needs 72 processes to make it safe or viable should not see the light of day, since failure or omission of any of those steps renders mitigation ineffective.

Private enterprise and the Government will reap the financial rewards, while the quarry workers and the local residents pay the price – a price that will cost some their quality of life, and others their actual lives.

The health concerns are real. The scientific data is clear. This last, old, standing limestone forest is essentially the ‘lungs’ of Jamaica, giving us clean air to breathe, and should be protected so that it continues to protect the lungs of its people. The permit to quarry in the Puerto Bueno Mountain must be rescinded.

SHERMIAN A. WOODHOUSE