A Coat of Arms, according to definition from the Britannica, is the principal part of a system of hereditary symbol dating back to early medieval Europe, used primarily to establish identity in battle.
Hence “After God is the Earth” which is enshrined in Dominica’s battle identity tells us what we fight for; God and the land.
“The Land of Three hundred and sixty-five rivers” and “The Nature Island of the World” are not merely slogans but the essence of what Dominica is.
The land, the mountains, the rivers and the marine environment that surrounds the island are to be zealously protected, because they are our livelihood, our attractions, and our gift from the creator.
The nutrients from the soil, is what builds our bodies, minds and souls through the plants that produce our food. So too does the water that flows through the soil to our rivers providing the habitat for aquatic and marine life.
For the past weeks I have seen disturbing videos circulating through social media on the presence of contaminants from a petroleum-based by-product in one of our once most pristine treasure, The Layou River.
Added to the pain was the number of derelict vehicles rusting along its bed and banks, and the anemic response from the authorities whose number one obligation is the protection of the people and the environment which supports their existence. What I have seen and heard so far has me deeply concerned.
In the event that persons would question what qualifies me to speak on the matter, I will humbly highlight a few aspects of my background to lend to the credibility of the subsequent observations, questions and recommendations.
I have worked over 10 years in the State of Florida, as an environmental consultant for one of the largest retail petroleum company in the United States. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the statutory agency who oversees every environmental matter in the state under the guidance of the Chapter 62-770, Florida Administrative Codes (F.A.C) which in 2005 was merged into Chapter 62-780, F.A.C., Contaminated Site Cleanup Criteria, and is currently pending updates. (https://www.flrules.org/gateway/ChapterHome.asp?Chapter=62-780).
During that time, I have actively conducted and trained junior staff in low flow groundwater sampling, soil sampling and supervised environmental drilling crews during the installation of scores of monitoring wells from North Central Florida, then to South Florida.
These wells were installed as part of site assessments activities at petroleum storage facilities, dry-cleaning facilities (Hazardous waste sites) and superfund sites.
I also supervised countless petroleum contaminant source removal, underground storage tank removal and replacements as well as the installation of other wells used for remediation techniques.
Example; air sparge and soil vapor extraction, in-situ chemical oxidation, etc. For the past six years I have managed environmental projects at retail petroleum sites in Texas under the Statutory oversight of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which is guided by the Texas Administrative code (TAC) Title 30-TCEQ-www.tceq.texas.gov.
The laws which governs environmental oversight in Dominica is a 36-page document called theEnvironmental Health Services Act 1997, ACT 8 (EHS ACT 97) which was Gazetted on 16 th October 1997.
The law is broken down into Parts/Section as follows:
– PRELIMINARY (Short title and interpretation)
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– PART I (Administration)
– PART II (Environmental Health Matters)
– PART III (Special Powers of the Chief Environmental Health Officer)
– PART IV (Procedure Regarding Appeals and Related Matters)
– PART V (Offences, Penalties and Proceedings)
– PART VI (Regulations)
– PART VII (Miscellaneous)
Some of the definitions in the EHS ACT 97 are as follows:
“contaminant or pollutant” means any solid, liquid, gas, odour, heat, sound, vibration, radiation or combination of any of them resulting directly or indirectly from the activities of man which may –
(a) impair the quality of the natural environment by any use that can be made of it;
(b) cause injury or damage to property or to plant or animal or animal life;
(c) cause harm or material discomfort to any person;
(d) adversely affect the health or impair the safety of any person; or
(e) render any property or plant or animal life unfit for use by man;
“contamination” means the state resulting from the presence of a contaminant;
“discharge” includes, but is not limited to, any spilling, leaking, pumping, pounding, emitting, emptying or dumping of any effluent into the air, water or on land;
“environment”; means the natural, man-made or altered environment of air, land and water (including the coastal waters of the sea);
“liquid waste” means –
(a) sewerage and human body wastes and other organic wastes and wastewater from toilets and
other receptacles intended to receive body wastes;
(b) drainage from medical premises e.g. hospitals, sick bays, dispensaries via baths, wash basins and the like fixtures;
(c) drainage from places where animals are held, reared or slaughtered;
(d) drainage and wastewater from domestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural operations including the manufacture and storage of chemicals; and
(e) any other waste waters;
“pollution” means the state resulting from the presence of a pollutant;
LAYOU RIVER POLLUTION
There are several other definitions listed but I will only highlight those above. It is important that the public is educated and aware of their roles and responsibilities under the law and the responsibility of those who are paid and sworn to execute the functions of the law.
On July 28 th , in response to the social media reports and expressions of disgust from the public, the Chief physical planner from the Physical Planning Department put out a notice to address the citizens concerns.
The information put out had me confused and with more questions than answers. Why is Physical Planning responding to matters of pollution when PART 1 Section 8 (1) (a,b,c) of the Laws requires the Department of Environmental health (DOEH) to be the regulatory body on that matter? Has the DOEH abdicated its constitutional and legal responsibility?
To date I have not heard or seen any information from the DOEH on that very serious ongoing pollution. The Chief Physical Planner indicated that Planning is taking the matter very seriously and were very thorough on their investigations and to some extent seem to be protecting the operations of the Asphalt plant.
Indications were that the department needs to know certainly what chemical is in the water and where it came from. However, it was not until the villagers of Layou protested on August 17, and 18, that the government halted all dredging and other activities along the river.
This was almost a month after the July 28 th notice. A report on Dominica news online dated Friday, August 21st, 2020 at 12:14 PM was as follows;
“Regarding the recently-discovered contamination in the river which was caused by an oily substance, Dr. Joseph noted that the source of the problem is still under investigation and her department has engaged the Bureau of Standards to conduct testing in the river. “What the testing will be able to do is tell you the people of Layou what is in your water and what is the quality of water in the area,” she said, adding, “the investigations are there to ensure that everything is done in a very thorough manner. We’re not doing anything rushed and we are certainly not going to take actions based on observation.” Dr. Joseph said the authorities are ensuring that there is science and the testing to back their decision, “so we come from a very strong position if, or when, we identify the problem and we may need to approach those responsible.” The Chief Physical Planner pointed out that there were constraints with the testing process, such as finding resources which may not be available in Dominica and identifying the appropriate staff to analyze the test, however, she assured the villagers that their complaints were not falling on deaf ears. Reports of contamination of the layout river valley goes back several years. How can this be said to be taken seriously when the contamination is in a river that flows constantly especially in the rainy season where flood stage is frequent. As a result, the situation required speed and urgency. All it takes is one night of shower to wash away dissolved and suspended loads. It appears that from July 28 th to August 21 st samples had not yet been collected because according to planning they did not have the resources to conduct the needed sampling and analysis in Dominica. The dredging and Asphalt plant have been in operation over a decade and is known to be utilizing a contaminant. Why has the DOEH not updated its procedures to be able to detect and sample the resulting chemicals after all these years of operation?
PART 1 Section 8 (1) of the Environmental laws requires of the DOEH the following:
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(f) undertake and carry out all related surveys, monitoring and investigations and prepare the necessary reports, plans and programs;
(g) maintain and operate the necessary laboratory, analytical and inspection facilities;
(h) provide advice in the field of environmental health and other supportive services to the
Ministry and other Government agencies in the Commonwealth of Dominica;
(i) implement and administer approved programs;
(j) keep abreast of technological and other advances in the field of environmental health and initiate the updating of legislation, standards and procedures in this connection;
Again, it begs the question, has the DOEH abdicated its legal responsibilities? One of the first indication of contamination is what can be seen. The need for analysis is, to establish there is discharge of a contaminant to the environment when there is suspected release that cannot be visually observed. Secondly, lab analysis seeks to establish whether the dissolved concentrations are within an acceptable limit or is above a permissible limit set by the state. I have not seen a list of all possible chemicals that is used or present in Dominica and their permissible limits in the environment. All operations should have been shut down on July 28 th by the appropriate authorities based on the presence of the oily substance in the river. Contamination beyond the dissolved phase had already been established. I am left to wonder how then does the DOEH monitor, sample and test for pesticides and other chemicals that do not display the same characteristics as petroleum products in the environment. The Environmental ACT of 97 requires that the MOEH monitors and prevents all contamination of our environment. Is it safe to assume that there is no information on the impacts of the millions of gallons of pesticides including, weedicides, herbicides and fungicides we have pumped into our environment? What is the status of these contaminants today? Are they locked up in our soils and are they still seeping into our water sources? Have we collected marine and terrestrial animal tissue samples to detect the presence of accumulated contaminants? What was more disturbing is that after the Chief planner proclaimed that a thorough investigation was done at the layout Asphalt plant, videos and photos from several citizens showed multiple areas around the dredging and asphalt operations littered with derelict equipment and trucks. Did the Planning and Environmental department approve construction of a landfill in the Layou river valley? Why did the chief planner and her team not address the amount of solid waste in the area during their assessment? The environmental ACT of 1997 clearly defines what constitutes solid waste and prohibits dumping on unapproved sites. Approving the construction of an Asphalt plant near the Layou river should not have happened in the first place, and to compound with the accumulation of derelict waste is criminal and negligent in nature. Prior to approval of the asphalt plant the company should be required to indicate how they intend to prevent spills, surface runoff, clean spills, dispose of waste, monitor leaks and report any impacts that affect the environment prior to gaining approval. Additionally, an inspection regiment should be set where announced and unannounced visits to the plant is conducted by the DOEH. I cannot imagine that these stringent measures were not put in place at such an environmentally sensitive location. Was and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) survey completed prior to approval of the facility? If yes, were the recommendations of that EIA implemented by the operators of the Asphalt plant? It seems like whoever is using the area as a dumping ground is in violation of the Environmental ACT of 97 and should be fined accordingly until the area is clean up. This must be a reason for planning or the DOEH to halt all activities along the riverbanks.
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The lack of oversight and enforcement of our environmental laws at such a visible and sensitive location and the apparent blatant violation by operators in the area should be of grave concern to our citizens. The relevant authorities have displayed negligence in the execution of their duties, and I have not seen the sense of urgency that this requires. If at such a location it took a demonstration to act, what kind of regulatory oversight are we having in areas where pollution is not as visible. This is deeply concerning, and the public should be disgusted. There has been a very high rate of cancers of all kinds in Dominica and I am left to wonder if the nature Island is so polluted that it has already began to show its ugly face. How will the population know when the relevant authorities are yet to be able to test for a contaminant that has been in use for over a decade?
I recommend the following:
1) Complete audit of the DOEH
2) Relocation of the Asphalt plant, away from all environmental sensitive receptors and residence
3) A review of all chemicals and pesticides imported and used in Dominica over the past 75 years
and a table that indicates the permissible levels and levels that require active remediation.
4) The Ministry of health initiate the necessary consultation to update the environmental laws in
Dominica to account for all new technology such as geothermal, that may have impacts on the
environment. There should be reviews to the law at least every 5 years.
5) Mandate that all companies and industries utilize third parties to conduct sampling and other
environmental compliance activities according to the laws. The DOEH should serve as the body
that reviews the resulting environmental reports and ensure the laws are being followed.
6) Increase fines and enforcements for any destruction and pollution resulting from operations
that is not reported in a timely manner
7) Conduct soil and groundwater sampling in areas where intensive agriculture is/was practiced
establishing baselines concentrations of pesticides that may exist in our environment and take
actions to remedy.
The number one responsibility of any government is to the people guided by the constitution and its laws. The actions of the Physical Planning Division and the group of ministers who visited the Layou community seems to indicate they are working for the interest of the Asphalt plant and not the people who they serve. When the government fails in that task the people must step in. To do that requires some knowledge of the governing laws. Many of us will not know the constitution in its entirety but it is a tool to use as a reference when there seems to be a violation of the rules or something is not right. Most of us know the fighting word Apres Bondie Cest La Ter. Let us do what needs to be done to preserve the environment in our small island Dominica since it is easy to be overwhelmed by waste and pollutants. My hope in raising these concerns is that those who are paid or taken an oath to protect our own dear land Dominica do just that and if they do not, the people take action and demand that our land, our environment, our health our Nature island remains true to its name and fighting words.
Opinions expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Dominica News Online or its advertisers.