by Latoya Burnham
An independent regulatory body for assessing environmental issues and making proposals regarding damages suffered was one of the primary recommendations coming out of a meeting with residents following a chemical fire at B’s Recycling two weeks ago.
Additionally, it has also been proposed that more tests for chemicals in the atmosphere be considered and that clear regulations on how and where recycling plants can be located and materials stored should be established.
The recommendations came out of a meeting last night at the Lester Vaughan Secondary School, where residents and interested parties expressed their concerns and told of impacts of the presence of the plant and also from the fire with the hope of coming up with solutions.
Moderator of the meeting, attorney Gregory Nicholls told residents that based on their own concerns about what kinds of permissions were granted for the plant to be established in the residential and agricultural area, about the materials being stored there, and also about their recourse stemming from the impact of the fire on their health and property, he believed a different kind of agency was needed to look at environmental concerns.
Where environmental matters were concerned, Nicholls said elsewhere in the region there were court documents showing a healthy practice of confronting such with the law, but in Barbados there were none.
The one case he and colleagues had sought to bring in the form of an injunction over the reciting of a metal dump in Bagatelle, he said, had been adjourned almost seven times already because the Government was not ready to proceed.
Barbadians, he said, had a habit of sitting back and taking impacts on their health and environment and not seeking legal recourse, however noting that the laws did not however allow class action suits of the nature seen in the US.
Answering a query about why residents that owned land in the Reece Road and other areas in St. Thomas could not subdivide their plots but yet a recycling plant was allowed to expand, Nicholls suggested that perhaps it was time for a new “independent” regulatory body to deal with environmental law and practices.
“Perhaps there is the need for us to have an independent commission or authority that deals with planning issues and environmental issues. I’m not saying that the Town [and Country] Planning does not do a good job because they largely respond to these matters, but if we were to establish in Barbados an agency that has independent powers, just like how the Fair Trading Commission is no longer a department of the Government but it is an independent authority that can determine policies for the roll out of service providers in terms of utilities in Barbados; perhaps we need a sort of environmental court where you can go and where that body has the capacity and the knowledge to do research and to help residents and citizens bring claims or pursue actions on behalf of residents.
“If you have a business in Barbados, a commercial entity that is going into the environment and doing something that is creating a private nuisance, affecting your livelihood and the value of your properties and your health and environment, etc, residents and ordinary citizens will not have the resources not to litigate the claim, but to do the research that would be necessary to prove a breach of your rights. So perhaps we need to have a stronger regulatory agency that can go out there and police and investigate, collect evidence and be able to help citizens pursue actions,” he suggested.
Resident Philip Millington also suggested that the issues facing those in St. Thomas were more national in scale, adding that for the past about 50 years, Barbados as a whole had been trying to tackle the issue of garbage disposal unsuccessfully by transferring dumps from one place to another with continued impacts on residential districts.
“The primary thing that we are going to have to insist on our Government or Governments that they put in place and stick to a sensible long term land use policy which cannot be manipulated by favour or otherwise,” he said to applause.
“There must be some kind of watch dog committee or organisation to which the residents of the country can make representation, which is an independent body, which will make representation then to whichever Government is in power and report to the people of Barbados what is being done by whomever is supposed to be in charge,” he stressed.
Adding that there should as well be a limit on how and where recycling centres could be located, he nevertheless acknowledged that such facilities were necessary to deal with the real issue of disposal of waste.
Hazmat consultant, Selwyn Brooks who fielded some questions from residents, said as well that those affected needed to be aware of the kinds of chemicals that could have been present in the fire and as such may need to look collectively at what tests were done and if they were sufficient to cover the spectrum of what people were exposed to.
Brooks, who is also a member of the Roving Response Team, which responded to the fire and lent assistance, said: “The people in the various communities need to now wake up and when someone wants to bring a facility into our environment, let us start questioning. What are you doing? What are your safety features? How will we be affected? What kinds of chemicals are you using?
“These are the kinds of questions you have to have to let this incident make us more aware of the kinds of things we need to address,” he said.