Minister of Education Ronald Jones today issued a stern warning to the business at the centre of environmental complaints at the Wesley Hall junior and infants’ schools.
Jones said never again should Tropical Laundries use such environmentally-harsh Bunker C fuel in its operations, as he questioned why it had taken the laundermat so long to make the switch to natural gas.
While pointing out that the business was also at the centre of similar environmental concerns, dating back to the early 2000s which led to the permanent closure of the now defunct Louis Lynch School (formerly known as Roebuck Secondary), Jones suggested that the problem should have been dealt with a long time ago.
“What is surprising is that they already have the technology [to make the switch to natural gas] at the plant because if you remember this goes back to the Louis Lynch situation, so they already have all of the technology in place,” said Jones, adding that “it is really a bit strange to me that they would still use Bunker C, even though it is a cheaper fuel, and not continue to use the natural gas.
“I don’t know if there is a problem with the natural gas because I know we do have enough of it here, [but] I really don’t know what was the hold up,” said Jones, who was responding to Barbados TODAY’s request for an update on the situation, following the re-opening of the Edna Nicholls Centre at Boscobel, St Peter this morning.
While praising the company for agreeing to make the switch to natural gas, Jones went on to issue a veiled warning to the operators of Tropical Laundries that their harmful practices needed to stop, else they could face serious repercussions.
“Everybody has to learn from their own given behaviour, but I do not think it is going to happen again where they would resort to Bunker C because as I said before it is a very harsh chemical.
“Every experience is a learning experience and we have to exist across all of the spaces where you would find residences, congregation of schools and businesses. Those businesses have to be conscious of what they do because these things can cause asthma and breathing difficulties like what we saw at the Wesley Hall schools,” Jones stressed.
Bunker C is the residual oil left over after the lighter,
more volatile products such as gasoline, #2 diesel and natural gas are distilled out of the crude oil. It is heavy because the molecules are larger, hence it provides a lot of energy per unit of fuel.
However, because it is the final oil left over, it has a lot more impurities such as sulfur and heavy metal. This also results in ash and deposit formation as well as combustion emissions.
In 2012 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organisation, announced that it had reclassified diesel exhaust and Bunker C, as a “definite” carcinogen, placing it in the agencies highest category.
IARC’s expert panel assessed all the available scientific evidence and decided that exposure to these fumes can, and does, cause cancer in humans, specifically lung cancer, which has been blamed for a number of deaths in recent years of former staff members and students who were associated with Louis Lynch.
However, no conclusive evidence has been presented to date to show that the laundry is directly linked to those deaths, even though an environmental assessment, which was done back in 2005, found that there were contaminants in the air.
On Tuesday classes were abandoned at both Wesley Hall infants and juniors, which are to remain closed for the rest of the week, after a flare up of noxious fumes, which has been linked to the White Park Road operations of Tropical Laundries.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY amid reports of students and staffers coming down with respiratory illnesses, Principal of Wesley Hall Juniors Herbert Gittens said it was not the first time that the school had been bothered by the noxious fumes.
“Last school year, we had situations where we had to evacuate about four times, so this is an ongoing situation and obviously it is affecting the staff and the pupils of the school and we are really looking forward to a solution so that we can continue the business of teaching and learning,” said Gittens, who has been the principal of Wesley Hall Juniors since 2012.
He also told Barbados TODAY that he had reached out to the owners of Tropical Laundries who had promised to
make the necessary changes to their operations but none had been made.