Swaps, dumps and health


If the threats of court action by the Opposition Barbados Labour party turn out to be more than political platform rhetoric, the process and results could end up being beneficial to Barbadians well beyond the political intent that no doubt significantly informs the Bees’ agenda.

When St. James Central candidate Senator Kerrie Symmonds told persons attending a political mass meeting at prior park, St. James last Sunday night that he was leading a BLp legal team that would sue Government over its decision to turn over the Bagatelle Metal Dump to B’s Recycling in a land swap deal, we had no reason to question his motives.

And when he pointed out that he, like many residents whose homes are located near to or down-wind of the dump, was concerned about the potential environmental impact the change of use of the facility from simple dumping and covering to shredding and preparation for shipment overseas, again his position seemed reasonable.

We will leave the politicians and others to argue over whether exchanging nine-plus acres of land at River Bay in St. Lucy for the near 20 acres that make up the Bagatelle dump was a fair exchange between B’s and the Government. Our concern is that authorities would, as it now seems clear, facilitate such a fundamental shift in use of such a facility, without consultation with the residents or even engaging the wider community of environmental experts. Again, we will not suggest that there was anything sinister intended by Government, but at the same time such a lapse cannot be excused, particularly when we have reached the stage where there is no longer an environmental portfolio tacked on to some minister — there is a Ministry of the Environment.

On so many fronts the handling of this matter demonstrated a decided weakness on the part of the persons and/or departments that were involved in the decision. Recycling has to be a critical part of the creation and maintenance of a green economy and given the number of vehicles that enter the country each year we have to take decisive steps to ensure when they come to the end of their useful lives that they are disposed of properly.

But as has been seen in so many other jurisdictions, if not done right the process of recycling can be as much an environmental hazard as the materials we are seeking to process. As a country it is now clear that we have jumped headlong into the recycling race without adequate legislative and policing mechanisms.

Metal shredding is a noisy process. Are there rules to say during what hours this can be done and within what proximity of residences; or is it entirely left to the operator? Are there rules about the handling of residual chemicals such as engine oils; or is this left to the “best practices” employed by the operator?

The questions we have about possible “mining” of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of long buried cars and other metal sources also should be answered for the benefit of all Barbadians, but particularly the neighbours of the dump. Our view is that it would be ridiculous to ask the owner of the land not to extract maximum benefits from his “investment”, but what are the rules that will govern such operations? Does age present additional environmental hazards? Are there gases or odours that residents will have to contend with? Are there peculiar rules that should govern such “quarrying”?

What we have not touched on is the biggest issue associated with automobile recycling — what the industry refers to as auto fluff; the shredded left-over seat cushions, insulation and grime that combine to make a toxic mix. This, when considered with the toxic dust spewed out by the shredder, are said by researchers to constitute a human health and environmental threat.

Can we get away from recycling? No! Should we be trying to? Absolutely no! Should we ensure that it is done under the most stringently enforced rules for the protection of our environment and our people? Without a doubt, yes!

So where does our environment ministry go from here?

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