The source of a foul odour plaguing one of the heaviest-travelled tourist locations on Grand Cayman has been pinpointed, but its cause remains a mystery.
And despite much speculation to the contrary, government officials have confirmed the George Town landfill is not the culprit.
On Wednesday, 11 April the stench was so powerful it reached as far as the Grand Marriott Hotel on Seven Mile Beach.
‘We were just walking along the street and we were just sort of overwhelmed for a few minutes by a poo-poo smell,’ said Lisa Clay from Cleveland, Ohio who was visiting the Cayman Islands for the first time with her parents.
While initially at a loss about the source of the stench, The Department of Environmental Health told the Caymanian Compass last week that the smell was emanating from the Cayman Islands Water Authority’s Industrial Park sewage treatment plant. The plant is just east of the landfill site.
A Water Authority press release issued late Monday said its wastewater treatment plant experienced a large toxic shock incident over the long weekend of 9 April that led to odour control problems at the facility.
The Authority’s statement noted: ‘Chemicals toxic to the naturally occurring bacteria in the wastewater treatment system may cause an upset and affect the treatment process.’
‘It’s killing off the bacteria that feed on that sewage, the sewage process is very dependent upon (that bacteria),’ said Works and Infrastructure Minister Arden McLean.
‘We haven’t identified what the chemical source is, but it could be anything.’ Mr. McLean said. ‘It could be somebody was cleaning their toilet. Minute amounts of this can destroy every bacteria in that sewage.’
It is an offence under Section 48 of the Water Authority Law to throw any matter or chemical into the sewer that would affect the treatment and disposal of the sewage.
Mr. McLean said there was no evidence chemicals were being dumped deliberately into the wastewater system.
There have been a number of toxic shock incidents over the past few months that have led to minor odour control problems at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. The odour concern is typically minimal and the smell tends to be inoffensive.
However, the toxic shock to the plant on 9 April was significant and the odour was more noticeable than in previous instances.
‘We have been actively investigating all possible sources to determine the potential origin of the contamination. We have been able to narrow our search down somewhat and have collected samples from various locations throughout the wastewater collection system in order to determine the general area where the problem originated,’ the Water Authority press release stated.
‘The last couple of days we sure have noticed it,’ said tourist Pat Flynn on 11 April.
‘Most of the time we’re on the beach and with the breeze it’s not a constant smell, it comes and goes,’ said Becky Bell, also a tourist. ‘It hasn’t sent us running inside.’
Those who seemed to notice it more were restaurant workers along the popular stretch of Seven Mile Beach.
‘It smells like something died,’ said Lindsay Heatherington, a local restaurant worker. ‘It smells like there’s a dead iguana under the bushes or something.’
‘It’s been so long, it’s been like a week and a half that it’s smelled like this,’ said Ms Heatherington. ‘We pretty much work outside at all times, so it’s not pleasant for us.’
‘(Tourists) think it’s coming from our restaurant,’ said Lisa Dunbar.
Water Authority officials said measures were taken to rectify the effects of the toxic shock. Dissolved oxygen levels were increased in the treatment basins to help disperse the toxic chemical and the associated odour into the atmosphere. This process generally brings the plant back to an acceptable operational discharge level within 72 hours.
The Water Authority said the problem was short-lived, and changes to the plant process allowed for dissipation of the chemical within a 48 -hour period.