The first 100 days

In American politics, there is process which examines the first 100 days of the president’s work. In this regard, we are going to adapt that practice to monitor the first 100 days of this New Year to observe the preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation activities of Barbados.

We want to see if 2013 will herald a new attitude towards emergency management and occupational safety and health. Under this heading, we will start our 100 days’ observations with safety and health and waste disposal.

In October 2012, we started a feature that examined the issue of household waste, its disposal methods, and its impact on the environment due to the callous behaviour of the population as they dispose of their domestic waste. I digressed from that feature to comment on the announcement that the Safety and Health at Work Act would be proclaimed on January 1 2013. We understand that it was, and yes it was low-key; there was no fanfare, no press conference, no officialdom supporting the proclamation of a most significant piece of legislation.

With the act’s low-key proclamation last week, what are the methodologies that will be used to address and correct unsafe work practices, currently accepted as normal behaviour? When will official statements from the authorities be released regarding how the act will be enforced?

Has the public sector considered the impact the act will have on their current administrative and field operations procedures? Will the public sector be subject to the same enforcement of rules and regulations as the private sector? Will there be a publication of standards for training workers and the monitoring of those programmes?

The year has just started; therefore I suppose that the relevant announcements will be forth coming.

Within the past two years, the Barbados Government has been promoting the introduction of a green society, and supporting economic and industrial activities that enhance the long-term environmental growth of the country. However, while it may be politically correct to present such concepts and enlist the society’s participation in the effort, it does not address the unregulated methods of waste disposal.

Public and private sector rhetoric notwithstanding, the unregulated dumping of waste still continues. There are practices which could be addressed by the country’s litter laws, which are still not brought before the courts. Cups, paper napkins, fast food containers can still be seen being thrown out of vehicle windows. Examine any public car park in the city and you will see evidence of indiscriminate waste disposal.

Each year, paints and solvents, automotive wastes, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, mercury-containing wastes (thermometers, switches, fluorescent lighting), computers, televisions, cell phones, aerosols (bug sprays), cleaning agents, old refrigerant-containing appliances and batteries of almost any type continue to be dumped anywhere accessible, and time of day is not a factor.

There has been much talk about protecting the ecosystem of Barbados by environmentalists and in political quarters. An ecosystem is a community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in conjunction with the non-living components of their environment (air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system. These components are regarded as linked through nutrient cycles and energy flows.

As ecosystems are defined by the network of interactions among organisms, and between organisms and their environment, they can come in any size but usually encompass specific, limited physical spaces. However, environmental scientists have suggested that based on their research, the entire planet is an ecosystem.

Biodiversity affects how an ecosystem function, as do the processes of disturbance and succession. Ecosystems provide a variety of goods and services upon which people depend; the principles of ecosystem management suggest that rather than managing individual species, natural resources should be managed at the level of the ecosystem itself. Classifying ecosystems into ecologically homogeneous units is an important step towards effective ecosystem management, but there is no single, agreed-upon way to do this.

One such item that immediately impacts the ecosystem is the indiscriminate disposal of paint products throughout the region. The statistics for the disposal of paint waste in Barbados are considerably low when compared to the US, but that does not change the fact that there is a need for clear guidelines for the disposal of paint waste here.

Every year in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, homeowners throw out 64 million gallons of unused interior and exterior paint. That’s enough material to paint 3,878,788 miles (6,242,304 kilometres) of highway stripes. The US National Atmospheric and Space Administration puts it in an even more dramatic perspective, they said that it was enough paint to create 16 solid highway stripes from the Earth to the moon, and the US Department of the Interior said it was enough to fill 128 Olympic swimming pools; from a Barbadian perspective that’s about nearly all of the domestic swimming pools along the west coast of Barbados.

Does all of this paint waste pose a hazard to the environment? Yes. Is there a way to dispose of old paint that doesn’t involve throwing it out? Yes. And if it can’t be used, what are the safe, responsible ways to get rid of it? Before you can decide on disposal of old paint, the type of paint product must be determined. There are basically two types of paint: oil-based and latex. They have different ingredients and must be handled differently while painting and when the job is completed.

Oil-based paints are considered Hazardous Household Waste and are not suitable for reuse after long storage. The label of an oil-based paint will say “oil-based” or it will instruct you to clean brushes with mineral spirits or turpentine. Paints of this type are flammable, toxic and contain harmful solvents, resins and pigments; very old oil-based paints may also contain lead. Oil-based paints must be taken to disposal facilities that accept Hazardous Household Waste.

Latex or water-based paint, on the other hand, is not considered as hazardous waste, and may be utilised after its initial use. Latex paints are those that clean up with soap and water. They’re very common for both interior and exterior painting. However, one should not pour latex paint into storm drains, onto the ground, or into our gutters.

You should also not put cans of liquid paint out for regular trash pick-up, or try to burn paint. Disposing of paint waste through burning releases contaminants into the air, soil and ground water, and these contaminants eventually end up in the production cycle of the food products developed for human consumption.

Protecting the environment is the responsibility of the entire country; it should not be left only to the Government or environmental organisations. Barbadian home owners represent the largest group within this context, however, it is unfortunate that the majority of home owners still find it difficult to practice or encourage correct domestic waste methods.

We have a new safety and health law, but we have not yet recognised the fact that it is our personal responsibility to protect the environment that constitutes our home. During the next 100 days we shall see if habits will change for the better.

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