There is a widely held view that no matter where one lives, or what kind of work one does, there will always be something around that can cause personal harm. Even as an imagined circumstance, the truth in this widely held view is not negated.
In reality, there are hidden dangers that may inflict harm to any unsuspecting individual. And some of these hidden dangers are in fact created by man through a country’s industrial and economic development –– dangers that sooner or later manifest themselves in neighbourhoods and communities.
Consider the following examples of a hidden danger. They are called industrial waste products –– solids, liquids and gases –– which are in fact the by-products of industrial development, and a society’s demand for consumer items which can only be produced through manufacturing.
Consider the following scenario as tomorrow’s reality. A developing country has determined that one of the primary ways of improving infrastructural growth is to encourage manufacturing and other consumer-based businesses as part of its economic programme for the country. The manufacturing programme requires that factories and plants be built to facilitate production of consumer items both for export and local consumption.
Dry cleaning businesses require either the importing or production of products specific to their industry. Agricultural expansion also requires herbicide and pesticide imports, or the establishment of some manufacturing process to meet agricultural needs.
The manufacturing industry also begins producing paints, soaps, cleaning fluids for the household and plastic products to meet the ever-growing needs of an developing society. The country also determines that drilling for oil, and mining for precious metals and other valuable minerals will also facilitate ongoing infrastructural expansion. However, it is important too that the country be made aware of some of the negative implications of manufacturing, as there is also the issue of what to do with the waste created through the production of consumer items.
As the country continues to expand infrastructurally, does it also take into account that waste (in the form of solids, liquids and gases) will also be generated when consumer items are produced? Does the country plan for the possible environmental impact should an industrial accident occur and there is a spill or major fire affecting the manufacturing plant?
For example, if soaps and other hair care items are products being created, what happens to the waste material created during the development of those products for the marketplace? What happens to the waste materials left over during the production paint products?
What happens if there is contamination of some of the produced materials? What happens if all manufactured products are not sold, and are in fact left in a warehouse beyond what may be considered as a “shelf life”? These products have been deemed a hazard to humans. So what will happen to them?
If water is being used as part of the manufacturing process, what happens to it when it is contaminated? Is it stored? Is it recycled and purified and added to the domestic drinking water supply?
There is also another side to this issue of “hidden dangers” What happens to the waste that is not destroyed by fire? It has been suggested that unless it is disposed of locally or off-island, it will continue to remain on the property of the manufacturer.
Where is it stored? It is assumed these materials are usually securely stored in a warehouse. Who is responsible for the disposal of the waste produced during manufacturing?
Existing environmental regulations suggest the manufacturer ultimately remains responsible for the waste until it has been safely disposed of. However, it has also been suggested that illegal dumping of some waste products may also occur under the cover of darkness in an open field or isolated watercourse.
Herein lies another hidden danger: possible illegal dumping of waste eventually reaching the country’s precious water resources –– which authorities are likely to consider as mere speculation without “actual proof” being presented.
And what happens to waste if off-island disposal is cost-prohibitive? Unfortunately, that material will remain on the manufacturer’s property until such time as financing can be afforded. This process of ongoing storage only further increases the risk of an environmental catastrophe if a major conflagration should ever occur.
Are there approved facilities available that meet appropriate environmental protection standards approved for local disposal? According to various sources, there are no approved hazardous waste facilities currently in place in Barbados.
The same also is true for many other Caribbean countries.
If the waste cannot be disposed of locally, and must therefore be shipped to another country for appropriate disposal, who pays for this disposal process? The generator/manufacturer is responsible for all costs associated with the disposal. Does Government offer local manufacturing business technical and financial assistance for off-island disposal?
August, 2015 –– United States: Over one million gallons of toxin-filled slush water from the abandoned Gold King Mine in Colorado, breached its containment walls and subsequently entered a river that ran through the states of Colorado and New Mexico. The usually clear Animas River subsequently turned bright yellow and orange as toxic pollutants contaminated the entire river basin.
The contaminated river reached over 40 miles before alarms were raised declaring the entire river a toxic disaster area and advising all residents and farming communities to avoid using any water
from the river for any purpose until further notice. Advisories regarding any water used for farming irrigation were also issued. The entire farming community were advised to shut down river water-sourced irrigation, so as not to destroy any agricultural products due for harvesting.
US Environmental Protection Agency officials stated that the plume likely contained quantities of arsenic, lead, zinc, copper, aluminium and cadmium, all of which are considered dangerous to humans, but could not confirm exact amounts at the time of the spill.
August, 2015 –– China: A chemical storage facility exploded, killing at least 121 people and injuring hundreds more. Days after the explosion, 54 people were still missing. As a result of the explosion, the proximity of industrial and chemical plants to residential areas had become hugely controversial.
The BBC’s Celia Hatton, reporting from Beijing, said widespread public anger over the deadly explosions in the city of Tianjin had led to government promises to improve China’s patchy commitment to industrial safety. Hatton also said an inspection of places storing hazardous chemicals in Beijing had unearthed safety issues at 85 out of 124 sites, resulting
in two emergency factory closures.
Cross-reference the recent Chinese events with scenarios occurring in Barbados during the past ten years: 2007, pesticide plant fire at Lowlands; 2008, IDC building fire at Grazettes; 2009, Harbour Industrial Park fire; 2013, B’s Recycling Facility fire in St Thomas; 2011 to 2013, Mangrove Landfill fires.
If these are the facts, can we therefore once more ask the question: is Barbados paying enough attention to hazardous waste management and disposal?
What should the answer be?