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CLEAN THE WATER

CLINT CHAN TACK Friday, February 17 2017

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GOVERNMENT yesterday acted swiftly on reports that lead contaminated water from the Guanapo Landfill has entered WASA’s Caroni Water Treatment Plant since 2014.

A day after the lead contamination disclosure was made by officials of the Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL) to a e Public Accounts Enterprises Committee (PAEC) of Parliament, Government said it wants answers from SWMCOL and WASA on how this situation was allowed to continue for three years.

In addition, Government is demanding that all relevant agencies act immediately to assure the population that there is either no threat to the country’s water supply or that any potential threat has been eliminated.

In fulfilling this mandate, WASA yesterday issued a press release reiterating water supplied to the public from its Caroni Water Treatment plant is safe for human consumption and meets international health standards.

Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh outlined Government’s plans to deal with this issue at the post-Cabinet news conference yesterday. Young said, “As a Cabinet, we have asked for a report...an urgent report on this.” Stressing that Government will not issue any premature directives to the population regarding water consumption, until it knows what the facts are, Young said, “we don’t want to overreact or under react.” He added that to date, there has been no evidence of any lead contamination of the country’s potable water supply.

Young said he would be “shocked and surprised”, if SWMCOL and WASA have not started working on resolving the issue, “with immediacy.” Describing the disclosure by SWMCOL officials to the PAEC as, “historical information”, AG Al Rawi said, “The report has to come carefully but it’s much more than Ministry of Health and (Ministry of) Public Utilities.” He said this issue cuts across the Ministries of Planning (which now has responsibility for the environment), Energy (dealing with renewable energy) and Rural Development and Local Government (which manages the country’s landfills). Al Rawi said this problem cannot be solved simply by closing the Guanapo Landfill or any other landfill.

Saying this issue is not novel and other countries have successfully dealt with it, Al-Rawi was confident that once Cabinet is apprised fully, “the best efforts will be taken with immediacy.” For his part, Health Minister Deyalsingh said, “When you have an issue of potential lead poisoning, I don’t think you have a line minister. All ministers should be concerned because this issue cuts across everything.” Young said a committee looking at the future of landfills in TT, is awaiting certain reports before making recommendations to Cabinet.

WASA: HAVE NO FEAR WASA in a release yesterday said water supplied from the Caroni Water Treatment Plant is safe to drink. “The Authority wishes to assure customers and the general public that water it produces meets and exceeds guidelines set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for potable or drinking water quality,” the WASA release stated.

The statement listed mechanisms for treating water to WHO standards. “Lead is a heavy metal contaminant which is easily removed from water during WASA’s coagulation/flocculation and sedimentation processes. In addition, there is disinfection to eliminate dangerous pathogens,” the release stated. Additionally, WASA undertakes regular water quality tests at the Plant’s on-site laboratory in keeping with WHO Guidelines.

Water Quality Monitoring System (WQMS) monitor water quality parameters in the Caroni River Basin and provide real- time water quality data to the Plant from several locations upstream of the Caroni Plant. This system measures six water quality parameters which are key indicators of different types of pollution that can impact the Plant’s output, WASA said.

WASA said that in recent years the Water Resources Agency (WRA), SWMCOL and the University of the West Indies (UWI) have worked together to improve water quality in the Guanapo River. This work includes reducing the volume of ‘leachate’ (pollution run-off) from the Guanapo landfill entering the river, through measures such as terracing the landfill, construction of three ponds within the landfill to control run-off, pumping the ponds and the removal of the ‘leachate’, and construction of an artificial wetland to assist with bio treatment of the ‘leachate’.

Environmental Management Authority (EMA) managing director Hayden Romano yesterday said that while lead in general is a “very serious pollutant”, information from WASA is that water supplied from the Caroni Plant meets WHO standards, including the level for lead. While the EMA has a regulatory role for specific instances of pollution such as piped effluent, air pollution and noise pollution, he said the agency is still awaiting its Waste Rules due by mid-year to broaden its remit.

Chaguanas West MP Ganga Singh, the then Public Utilities Minister under the former People’s Partnership government, yesterday said the water-intake into the WASA system is heavily polluted but this contamination is removed by WASA’s treatment system. Saying sewerage from 16 sources flow into the Caroni water courses and the PP built a water treatment plant in Malabar to ensure a higher quality of effluent in the system.

AIR POLLUTION TOO Arima businessman and activist Roger Belix yesterday urged the authorities to employ the service of foreign experts to test levels of toxins in the water courses and atmosphere from the Guanapo landfill.

“Seven years ago the Justin Belix Foundation conducted a test. We looked at the air and water pollution from the Guanapo landfill. When we did our test back then, Cariri (Caribbean Industrial Research Institute) could only handle a certain type of chemical component, not bacterial component, and we realised it (pollution) was coming from the dump.

“The then PNM government and then the UNC after, said they would look more into it. And that was that. We met with persons from WASA and they said they would give us a test every three months to ensure things are safe.

After so many years, now we are getting this report when before we were getting from them that pipe-borne water was as safe as you can get,” Belix said.

Belix said while they felt vindicated about being right about lead poisoning, there were other chemical tests that could not be done locally. He believes the air around the landfill is heavily polluted.

“We are time bombed now because there are a lot of people now who would be getting a lot of ailments that we can’t explain.

We are not the research people, we are just normal people on the sidelines observing these trends.

We hear people complaining on a daily basis. Just this morning a guy came, very pale, and he said they were doing tests, but they not know what it is.

He lives on deGannes Street which is downhill from the dump. He said he was going abroad to have more tests done.

This thing is so far and wide we need specialists to come in to really pinpoint what is happening,” Belix said.

(Additional reporting by CAROL MATROO and SEAN DOUGLAS )

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