Trust makes shocking charge about sudden deaths
In an explosive contention that puts it at odds with health officials, a well-respected environmental organization here is warning of a possible link between the current spate of premature deaths and the quality of the island’s drinking water.
The Future Centre Trust which raised the red flag in an interview with Barbados TODAY Thursday afternoon, is also questioning the official position of health authorities, who are associating the deaths to non-communicable diseases [NCDs] and Barbadians’ lifestyle.
The Barbados Water Authority (BWA) must have thought it had put this issue to bed when last month it was forced to deny reports circulating on social media that the sudden deaths – many of them in public, including at work and on the road – were due to the existence of lead in new water metres that had been rejected in Canada.
In seeking to dispel the “erroneous reports”, the BWA said at that the time that the procurement of the new HYDRUS Ultrasonic water metres followed stringent guidelines, consultation and approval of the Barbados National Standards Institute (BNSI).
An official statement said the BWA, in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Department, the Ministry of Environment and Drainage and the Environmental Health Inspectorate of the Ministry of Health, had a comprehensive and long-standing water quality monitoring programme which involved the bacteriological and chemical testing and analysis of water samples through the Government Analytical Services Laboratory and MDS Laboratories in Florida.
However, the Future Centre Trust is contending that authorities might still be falling short of the testing mark.
“Nobody tests for hydrocarbons on the roadside in Barbados . . . nobody tests for the nitrogen dioxides on the streets of Barbados, and I know there are many water soluble chemicals that probably could be within our water. But who test for those?
“I’m saying the time is right where we need to also now look at what we’re testing for in our water and look at increasing the number of things we test for. The jury is out on what is causing so many people to come down with serious ailments,” Advocacy Director Kammie Holder said.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George has explained that NCDs were responsible for the 24 sudden deaths between late January and mid-June. There were 21 such deaths during the corresponding period last year, he said.
Regional health expert Dr Tomo Kanda has also said the spate of sudden deaths was not unique to Barbados, as
other Caribbean Community countries suffered from similar high rates of the lifestyle illnesses that lead to premature deaths.
While admitting that NCDs were posing a serious threat to the Barbadian population, Holder cautioned citizens to pay more attention to how their health was being affected by environmental factors.
“When you have NCDs where you are now hearing that for every one person dying from HIV, there are 35 persons with NCDs. Now NCDs don’t only come from eating lifestyle yuh know, they also come from the toxic environment you have. You have issues now, where diesel is being linked to persons developing diabetes and very few persons seem to be aware of that,” he added.
The United States-based Environment and Human Health, Inc (EHHI), a ten-member science-based organization composed of physicians public health professionals and policy experts, has reported that scientific experts believe that illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and diabetes are exacerbated by environmental conditions.
Holder is therefore fearful that the proposed construction of a Canadian-owned solar farm on lands at Waterford Plantation, St Michael could add insult to injury regarding “still unresolved” environmental issues affecting Barbadians.
Stating that he supported a solar farm in principle, the environmentalist expressed concern over the possible impact of the manufacturing aspect of the operation.
“I don’t know if they will be manufacturing or assembling the PVC cells in Barbados. By nature, PVC manufacturing is a very dirty industry as it relates to by-products. I have no issue with the assembling of those PV cells, but I do have a problem, should they be seeking to manufacture the cells in Barbados,” he stressed.
Holder noted that there were still unsettled environmental disputes related to an oil spill at Gibbons Bogg, Christ Church where farmers cannot plant or reap because the land has been condemned; another spill on the former Mobil Oil Refinery at Graves End where the responsibility for cleaning up was being contested, and the dust problems at Checker Hall, St Lucy.
“So I’m saying in the absence of environmental justice, we need to get things right before we take on these sorts of environmental projects,” the Future Centre Trust Advocacy Director said.