The National Water Commission (NWC) is downplaying the health risks associated with a major sewage-treatment plant in the middle of a residential community in the Corporate Area.
Residents of Greenwich Town, in Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's south west St Andrew constituency, have charged that the plant - an intermediate point for seepage, which is then piped to the Soapberry Treatment Plant - blankets the area with a foul smell and could lead to major health issues.
But communications manager at the NWC, Charles Buchanan, says the plant does not pose a health risk.
"Discharging of off-site sewage is being done out of the direct reach of children from nearby schools, as well as the residents of the nearby housing scheme and should, therefore, not pose an immediate health risk to them," said Buchanan.
However, head of the School of Public Health and Health Technology at the University of Technology, Professor Winston Davidson, has rubbished Buchanan's claim.
"Is he a public-health inspector?" challenged Davidson, who is also chairman of the Bureau of Standards of Jamaica.
"It is both a nuisance and a potential hazard because it is not a treatment plant; the treatment plant is in Soapberry. They have spillage all over the road, and there is spillage in the yard, and the children go there and walk through there, and it is not sterile.
"Every single agency involved I have spoken to, and yet the practice continues. It is a disgusting state of affairs, and the threat of cholera is real," charged Davidson.
When our news team visited the plant last week, we saw evidence of cesspool trucks spilling, foul-smelling waste, with persons
shovelling dirt onto the effluent that had fallen in the yard of the premises.
Within 15 minutes of the news team's presence, ten cesspool trucks of varying sizes arrived one after the other to offload extremely foul-smelling waste at the plant, which is next door to the Greenwich Town All-Age School, the Caribbean Palm Estate Early Childhood Institution and the Caribbean Palm Estate Housing Scheme.
The foul smell blanketed children who were playing at Greenwhich Town All-Age School, which is not even separated from the plant by fencing. There is also a frequently used track connecting both properties.
The Sunday Gleaner has learnt that public- health officials have previously taken action against the NWC, demanding that certain issues be corrected at the plant, including measures to prevent the spillage of the waste and the need for major retrofitting, such as perimeter fencing.
But Davidson insists that setting guidelines for the disposal of the sewage at the plant is not good enough, as the site should be shut down completely.
"It (sewage) is not treated there, so it must not be dumped there. It must go to the treatment plant in Soapberry to be treated," said Davidson. "Added to that, there must be regulations put in place to license all these trucks so that they don't leak raw sewage when transporting it on the streets."
However, Buchanan argued that it is not possible to truck the seepage directly to Soapberry, due to the nature of that plant, and there is no immediate plan to stop trucking of off-site
sewage to the Greenwich Town facility.
Buchanan further pointed out that a few years ago, the NWC had attempted to discontinue the receiving of sewage at the facility, but had to reverse it when it was discovered that trucks were uncontrollably dumping at some unsafe locations.
But the residents are adamant that the plant should be shut down as they charged that classes at the Greenwich Town All-Age School are sometimes interrupted several times in one day due to the stench emitted from the raw sewage.
"Classes have to pause when it is really kicking. You can't talk, and you have to just drop everything and put something over your nose," said one resident.
"From what I am hearing, this should be condemned, and no one should really be using it. I am hearing that this is kind of an illegal thing right now, but it is cheaper for the sewage truck to come here than to go there (Soapberry)," added the resident.
Secretary of the Caribbean Palm Citizen Association, Maureen Meredith, charged that when residents were moving into the scheme eight years ago, they were told that operations would discontinue at the plant.
She argued that even if that promise was not kept, the NWC should at least regulate the flow of traffic onto the plant.
"I want to know if water commission does not have a cut-off time or a start time and certain days where they don't work? But seven days a week, all three o'clock in the morning, you hear the trucks a come drop off, and it very stink.
"Down to all Christmas, believe me, when you feel say you are going to enjoy your dinner, is a cesspool truck that; you can't even sleep in your bed. At certain hours, the gate closed, but when you look, you see them (cesspool operators) pulling it and going in."
Buchanan acknowledged the problem, but said the location of the facility and the absence of proper security makes it difficult to regulate.
"Authorised trucking to the facility should only be done within normal working hours. However, the location of this facility and other issues relating to the state and physical security of the facility makes preventing unauthorised deliveries very difficult," said Buchanan.
"Much income is being lost by the NWC as well, as deliveries done outside of normal hours tend not to be accounted for."