Calls for a contaminated land inventory for Trinidad and Tobago

Old lead-acid batteries. Image: Basel Action Network
Hazardous Substances and Waste

Environmentalists in Trinidad and Tobago are warning that there are several contaminated sites across the country that are having adverse impacts on the environment and human health and well-being:

A Joint Select Committee of Parliament inquiring into waste management policies has been told that as an industrialised country T&T needs a contaminated land inventory to ensure that lead and chemically contaminated land is not being used for construction of houses and agricultural purposes before proper remediation of contaminated land is done.

Technical manager of Green Engineering and a member of the Council of Presidents of the Environment, Kelli Danglad yesterday told the JSC, chaired by independent Senator Sophia Chote, that over the last ten years the company had managed a number of soil projects which involved areas contaminated by lead, caused by the improper disposal of batteries.

Danglad said one such area was in Arima. “There used to be in the 1970’s, a lead smelting factory and they used to dispose of slag in the communities so the soil became contaminated with lead,” she said.

Danglad said the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) and UWI did a blood lead study with primary school children in Arima and found unusual quantities of lead in the blood of the children.

“When they went to their homes to investigate why and they realised they were living in an area where batteries were indiscriminately disposed and that led to lead contamination,” Danglad said.

In another case, she said, there was an individual in La Chance Trace, Arima, who was collecting batteries and recycling them in his yard.

“We visited the site and the soil is grey, you could see the lead and this was running into the Arima River. It is disturbing.”

The man’s children, according to Danglad, “had mental retardation from incidental ingestion of the lead.”

Asked by Chote whether injunctive action was sought against the man given the effect of the lead on the brain and the “life outcome” of the children, Danglad said she was uncertain whether that was explored by the EMA or even the health authorities. She said it was worth having “some kind of legal injunction or follow up monitoring.”

Danglad said the problem was not unique to Arima but also happens in Guayaguayare, where the recycling of lead is used as “sinkers for fishing”. In one case she said animals were affected.

Danglad said contamination of the soil not only leads to health issues including cancer and other diseases, “but it also costs the State to remediate.” She is suggesting that instead of taxpayers and the State be burdened with the costs “it should be the polluter who pays.”

Describing the situation as “alarming and frightening,” committee member Tarhaqa Obika suggested that a list of the offending persons be submitted to the committee to assist them in determining whether the offenders had gone elsewhere and were doing the same thing.

Danglad said Green Engineering had “developed a preliminary land inventory for Trinidad of sites which were previously used for industrial purposes, “where it could have been a battery factory, previous gas stations, previous chrome plating.”

Read more in the full article from the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian.

[Image: Basel Action Network]

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