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Dust chokes residents, leads to breathing problems
Every morning shopkeeper Mahadaya Charles takes a cloth and wipes mounds of dust from the products in her showcase window. She then dusts the sitting area at the front of her house, removing more dust. Charles lives less than one mile from a quarry on the Arima/Blanchisseuse Main Road and even though she has a net blocking the dust from entering the front of her house, it still makes its way in, settling on all available surfaces.
The plants, she said, get cleaned by rain but do not appear green for long. After dusting her house she returns to conduct her shopkeeping business. At this point, less than two hours later, her products, plastic water-filled bottles and sodas, are once again covered in dust. “If I’m eating and I stop just to say something to someone, I might even have to dust out the food on my fork before putting it in my mouth,” she jokes.
The circumstances she lives in, however, are no joking matter. Just standing in Charles’s shop for five minutes, results in one’s clothing being covered in a filmy layer of dust. Where does all this dust come from? There are four quarries in and around the area. Charles complains of breathing problems and says the vehicles carrying aggregate from the quarries speed on the roads, seemingly without care when material falls off their trucks or when dust swirls toward homes.
“They wet the road sometimes but all that does is turn the road from dusty to muddy,” said Charles. “We spoke to the mayor (Arima Mayor Ghassan Youseph) a few months ago and he said they would put stop signs in the area to slow down the trucks but we are still waiting.” In a telephone interview, Youseph said nothing could be done by his office regarding quarries.
Further in the valley, Errol Rooplal, lives in a one-storey house, less than half a mile from one of the quarries. According to Rooplal, living with the noise and the dust from the quarry is just a part of everyday life for residents of the area. “We really not bothered by it. My family has lived here for forty years and we get accustomed to these things. The roads though are a real problem. Imagine it have four quarries in this area, all of them mash up that road and nobody would fix it,” Rooplal complained.
Nearly 300 metres from Rooplal’s home, Kamal Sinanan’s house stands nestled on an incline near the main road. From Sinanan’s window she has a view of trucks, backhoes and other machinery tearing down a mountain. She sees rocks being crushed and loaded into trucks. Trucks can be seen offloading quarry material at a point where the aggregate tumbles down the side of the mountain, sending clouds of dust into the atmosphere.
Sinanan recently recovered from a severe case of pneumonia, something she says her doctors blame on the dust she constantly breathes in. She explained how excess quarry material covered the river bed and remembered occasions when the smell of diesel came from the water, something she blames on the quarries washing machinery and allowing the water to drain into the river.
“At first, someone from the quarry told us that they would only do work five days per week and they would start at eight and end at four. That turned out to be a lie because they are here seven days per week, sometimes before 6 am,” said Sinanan. “They blasted recently and it shattered some of the light fixtures in the house, I made a complaint but no one is responding.” She named chief executive officer of National Quarries Company Ltd Sandra Fernandez as the recipient of her complaints and said nothing was being done.
“I call and complain but they don’t fix it, they don’t do anything,” Sinanan said.
In a brief telephone interview yesterday, Fernandez denied receiving complaints regarding quarry operating hours or water pollution from residents. “There have been complaints but they were about the blasts and the noise but we have been monitoring this,” Fernandez said. Asked whether it was standard practice to push aggregate down the mountain, she said she was unaware whether that was being practised and would have to clarify with operation engineers at the site.
Public education officer at the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) Tisha Maharaj, in a telephone interview, said transportation rules were usually built into the conditions for a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC). “It is never good practice to allow dust to just fall off the mountain, especially if this is affecting sensitive receptors such as villages or water courses,” said Maharaj.
However, Maharaj admitted that since quarrying was not regulated by the EMA at this point and since a CEC had not been required for Scott’s Quarry, nothing could be done by the authority. A water course does in fact run parallel to the quarry—the Arima river, the only source of water for residents in the area.