When we speak about many of the illnesses that claim so many of our lives today we often refer to lifestyle diseases. Given the publicity that has been associated with these chronic illnesses, there should hardly be a Barbadian around today who is not aware of how certain daily habits can shorten life.
But while we associate fat, salt, lack of exercise, smoking and other poor choices we make with diabetes, hypertension, cancer and a host of other killers, it seems that the exposure of Barbadians to other detrimental conditions does not get a lot of attention.
We speak specifically on this occasion to hazards associated with construction in Barbados, particular ground work on building sites and road construction — with the latter being the biggest culprit. It appears to us that while authorities have all kinds of rules and regulations to govern the integrity of the structures being built, very little is in place to protect persons from the impact of the environmental hazard of dust from marl during the building process.
What makes this so interesting is that the environmental protection agencies of the state, including the Town and Country Planning Development Office, the Coastal Zone Management Unit and the Environmental Protection Department, don’t fail to enforce the rules when construction companies are working beachside.
They will monitors the progress of work to ensure that turbidity of water does not exceed set standards, that appropriate netting is installed to minimise the volume of dust from marl getting into the water and impacting our reefs, fish and turtles.
Yet, all across Barbados construction companies can literally leave the atmosphere heavy with dust particles for months while they undertake their work — with apparently hardly a care in the world that these particles are so fine they enter office buildings through even the most minute cracks around doors and windows, with the filters of most air-conditioning systems being too course to trap them.
But while workers in such buildings have to put up with gritty eyes and heavy chests, we can only feel sympathy for the hapless householders whose homes are not air-conditioned and the thought of total closure in our tropical conditions is unfathomable.
Just look around Barbados — St. Philip, St. George, Warrens — where there is roadwork taking place and you are left to wonder where the reasonable sacrifice a citizen is expected to make in the interest of progress ends and where construction companies are getting away with murder.
Yes, it is normal to see water trucks from these companies wetting the roads periodically, but one does not have to be blinded [by dust] to recognise that in an environment characterised by blistering sunshine and high winds, a wet road stays that way for mere minutes.
Okay, we accept that we are not blessed with volcanic rock and we must therefore build with what we have, coral stone. And yes, we accept that dust is a by-product of using coral stone. Our question is: How long should residents and workers have to put up with this hazard on any one project?
Clearly in too many of our building and road construction projects contractors and/or the people for whom they work don’t pay enough attention to this. How many times have we seen a road project come to the point before base course asphalt paving and just remain like that for months with traffic daily kicking up clouds that can rival the dreaded Sahara dust?
Then, out of the blue, along comes a sub-contractor and starts trenching for some utility service, compounding the dust problem. Of course, residents and others impacted must now wait weeks of even months before it is returned to the state of readiness for paving.
This state of affairs is nothing short of intolerable, and there ought to be some Government agency with the legal instruments, personnel and will to say: “Enough is enough!” — and to take action when there is non compliance.
We are not medical experts, but we suspect that while a quality washing solution will clean the eyes of the affected, there may be no simple solution for persons who are forced to inhale these dust particles daily for months.
And while we are at it, what about the very workers on their construction sites who seldom wear dust masks or respirators of any type while taking blast after blast head-on? But this is life in the tropics. We have probably signed on to half a dozen international conventions to protect flora, fauna and marine life — but God help the poor human!