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Lead poisoning scare in Arima
There are fears of a serious lead poisoning threat at Santa Rosa West, a residential development populated by thousands of people. Papa Bois Conservation (PBC), an environmental advocacy group, fears an encapsulated lead contaminated site in the area may be broken by a construction company working in the district and poison may be leaked into the Arima River, a source of potable water.
Home Construction Ltd is working in the area, reportedly building a retention pond. The site is also known as “The Crossings”. Marc Laurent de Verteuil, who heads PBC, said he observed a concrete layer at the site broken in several places. His concern was heightened when he saw groundwater flowing from the construction crater into the Arima River. He could not estimate the number of people who could be affected but said it depended on where the Arima River went and how the water was used.
Downstream from the site is one of the country’s largest poultry processors, De Verteuil added, and the river also leads to sources of potable water. The development site at Santa Rosa West was deemed a lead-contaminated site but was remediated under Environmental Management Authority (EMA) guidance, he recalled.
“This means that the area of concern was encapsulated in concrete and geotextile layers to prevent contamination of groundwater,” De Verteuil explained. Further, conversations with workers revealed they were not advised of the lead contamination in the area, nor were any special precautions taken for their safety, he said.
“Up to yesterday morning, construction work was continuing on the site with no pollution-containment measures in place,” he added. He said PBC on June 29 notified the EMA, Environment Minister Ganga Singh and Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan about the matte. Khan said lead poisoning was a serious health hazard and affects the kidneys and bones, especially those of growing children.
Noting it is a matter that needs to be urgently looked into, he said if the Arima River is contaminated, a lot of people would be poisoned. “Once you touch contaminated water and put your hand in your mouth or drink the water, you can be poisoned,” he added. Khan said he has forwarded the PBC’s letter to the Chief Medical Officer, who would inform public health inspectors about it.
The EMA said it had been on the site to investigate the matter. De Verteuil said the EMA’s CEO, Dr Joth Singh, told him preliminary tests had been carried out. “The EMA has contracted the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute to conduct more investigations and will update once information becomes available,” a release said yesterday. EMA communications specialist, Nicole Bachan, could not say when a report would be done.
“It depends on when investigations are completed,” she said. Environment Minister Ganga Singh said he was aware of the situation and was awaiting the EMA’s report. “I know the area is a lead-contaminated site. When the report comes to me, I will have to look into it,” the new minister said. The Water & Sewerage Authority told De Verteuil his letter of concern had been received and the matter was being investigated.
Effects of lead poisoning include:
• Brain damage;
• birth defects;
• reduced growth in children; and
• neurological disorders
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