Wed | Dec 6, 2023

Letter of the Day | Stricter penalties for environmental breaches

Published:Monday | August 8, 2022 | 12:06 AM


Once again, residents in the Rio Cobre area have raised an alarm about the massive numbers of dead fish in the river due to effluent from facilities at the West Indies Alumina Company (Windalco). The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) was quick to condemn the incident; Senator Matthew Samuda, minister with responsibility for the environment and climate change, also responded quickly. To date, Windalco has not issued any statement, but according to Samuda, the company may face a financial penalty and be forced to replenish the environment performance bond the Government holds, as fines are withdrawn for breaches. We expect Windalco to do better to stop pollution.

The Government has also pledged further studies on the development of the area and the impact of environmental plagues. Water used by residents for farming and other purposes will continue to be monitored, and crop irrigation has been suspended. These measures are necessary, considering this is not the first time Windalco was fined over spills which raised alkaline levels in the river, which were too high for fish to survive. Toxins can harm plants and other organisms and can seep into land and waterways, contaminating habitats.

In 2021, Windalco was fined and in 2019, the company was in court over another incident. Windalco has been linked to four other fish kills in Rio Cobre, according to NEPA. Fish kills across the island is becoming problematic, and court fines for such breaches are too low to have any impact. The Rio Cobre river, like others in the island, is a lifeline for the residents; many depend on the area to earn their livelihood. The sight and stench from dead fish must be repulsive to residents and visitors alike.

Rivers, seas, lakes and oceans are vital to life and the food supply chain; they are part of the environment, which has an impact climate change. We must continue to sustain land, water and air to keep the environment we live in healthy. Toxic wastes should be disposed of safely for the least harmful effects to wildlife and humans. Environmental breaches are mostly due to carelessness and a lack of proper controls, driven by an urgency to make profits. Stricter penalties are inevitable; this can fund environmental studies and help to repair the damage. Safe handling of chemicals, toxins and other wastes should be a vital part of any operation, regardless of industry.