CUC addresses environmental concerns

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The Caribbean Utilities Company has been pumping contaminated water used to cool its generator engines into the North Sound, minutes from a Water Authority-Cayman board meeting have revealed.

At a 18 April meeting of the board, chairman Lemuel Hurlston reported that in June 2011, the Water Authority granted a licence to CUC to discharge cooling water from several wells at its property into the North Sound.

The cooling water is used to cool the engines of CUC’s generators.

Under the terms of the permit granted from the Water Authority, CUC is permitted to discharge 12.7 million gallons per day of cooling water into the sound, at a maximum temperature of 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

“In December 2011, CUC notified the authority that low level of petroleum hydrocarbons had been detected in the discharge,” the meeting minutes noted.

Petroleum hydrocarbons are chemical compounds from crude oil.

The Water Authority asked CUC to review the matter further and, the week before Easter this year, CUC provided testing results of water from the six wells that cool its generators.

“These results confirmed the presence of low level petroleum hydrocarbons in four of the six supply wells that had been tested. CUC, the Department of Environment and the authority met on 17 April, 2012, to discuss and review the results.

“The three parties agreed that although the levels of petroleum hydrocarbons were low, there is reason for concern,” the minutes read.

The document continued: “At this stage, however, it is not clear where these contaminants come from and it was agreed to continue with further testing and to review historical information on spills at CUC and other industrial activities within the vicinity of CUC.”

Further results will be available and reviewed at a meeting scheduled for the middle of this month.

In a statement to the Caymanian Compass Monday afternoon, CUC said it was aware that samples of cooling water discharged into the North Sound and in the ground water around CUC had results that indicated the “possible trace presence of hydrocarbons”.

The statement read: “Upon identification of these results, CUC reported this information to the Water Authority. CUC’s latest test results conducted within the last two months reported that there was no trace presence of hydrocarbons in the discharge into the North Sound.

“CUC’s abstraction and discharge licences require CUC to report any contamination of hydrocarbons or toxins to the Water Authority. Although the values listed in these results are detectable by the test, all tests are below the minimum quantifiable limits of the tests. The minimum quantifiable limits of the recent tests results are 3.9 parts per million.”

The CUC statement continued: “After discussions with the independent laboratory that conducted the tests and both Water Authority and Department Of Environment, it is possible that these results are false positive results based on the very low level of results and being below the minimum quantifiable limits of the test.

“Based on this information and ongoing discussions with the Water Authority and DOE, there has been no information that would confirm the presence of hydrocarbon above the minimum quantifiable levels to determine any negative environmental impact. However, CUC continues to monitor this issue and will continue to discuss the results of the testing with the relevant government authorities to ensure the ongoing protection of our environment.”

The discharge permit granted to CUC from the Water Authority stipulates that “no chemical, toxic or harmful substances” be added to the water that is discharged into the Sound.

“Among the testing carried out by CUC is the test for Total Recoverable Petroleum Hydrocarbons, Method EPA 1664. It should be noted that for some of the samples the lab reported results that are above the analytical method detection limit of 1.3 parts per million but below the practical quantitation limit of 3.9 parts per million, this means that the sample had a positive result, but it cannot be quantified.

“The lab has also confirmed that it is possible to have false positives if the results fall in the range between the analytical detection method limit and the practical quantitation limit. Interpretation of these positive results has to done with caution,” said Hendrik-Jan van Genderen, water resources engineer at the Water Authority.

Mr. van Genderen said that because some of the results for individual feed water sources were positive for petroleum hydrocarbons while the discharged water from the same unit had a non positive result, the Water Authority could “not conclude with certainty that CUC is discharging hydrocarbons into the Sound”.

“A review of the history of the site and other industrial activities in area has been carried out to identify possible sources of contamination,” Mr. van Genderen added.


CUC’s headquarters is located near the North Sound. – PHOTO: FILE


  1. So let me get this straight. CUC is permitted to dump 13 million gallons of polluted water into the North Sound each day, but they are also responsible to test their own pollution and report their findings. Only in Cayman!
    Personally I am amazed the North Sound doesn’t look like a septic tank these days. Polluted water from utility companies, raw sewage from apartment complexes, all kinds of contaminets from the GT Dump, God knows what else. We need to wake up before its too late. Hurry up and close the GT Dump!

  2. 12 million gallons PER DAY allowed to contaminate North Sound? You bet there is reason for concern! -What’s happening on these islands? uncontrolled fire for two days this weekend at Brac Dump? Effluent from CUC (or who knows where?) entering North Sound at the rate of 12 MILLION gallons per day? What is this, some kind of third world country?

  3. …but CUC do so much for the country, like sponsoring a few athletes and stuff. Surely this must allow them to carry on pumping these pollutants into the water.

    I wonder if their logo actually depicts a turtle having a heart attack?

  4. 12 million gallons of HOT water a day? Why, in the year 2011, do they suddenly want to dump all that into the sound? This is going backwards. How come this was done without any public notice?

  5. Lets just change the name from North Sound to Jersey Shore so its not so alarming.

    This story is so sad since I intend to move to Cayman soon and go boating on the Sound . Please get your act together and do NOT become another America with massive debt and pollution .

  6. These days instruments can detect parts per billion so why cant they quantify it. ANSWER: It would lead to a heap of bad press and possible fines. I hope they get fined, the maximum too.

  7. Did i recently hear that CUC is charging the Water Authority for an error in billing going back several years? Now Water Authority releases this information on CUC?

    You might be surprised to find out how long CUC has been discharging this water(?) into the North Sound.

    The other issue with the discharge relates to the temperature. I heard it is pretty HOT, which means this may also have an effect on corals, algae growth etc.

    Need to get a handle on this soonest!

  8. Bryan G, I doubt very much that it is fresh water if the usage is 12.7 million gallons per day. That is probably more than the Water Authority makes in a day for sale to every customer in Cayman.

    If the water temperature reaches 107 degrees fahrenheit in a single pass then they would need a loop as big as Cayman to keep the temperature from rising too high.

  9. My guess is that the brackish water from the wells are passed across a heat exchanger which contains the coolant from the diesel generators engine block water jacket. Sort of like putting your cars radiator in a big pipe and running water through the pipe. The water from the pipe cools the liquid in the radiator and the radiator cools the engine. This is the same principal nuclear plants use to keep the reactor at a stable temperature.

    I am willing to bet that they do it that way because its the cheapest way to cool the engines. If they used fans to cool the heat exchanged instead of well water they would use more electricity/fuel and we would have to pay more.

    All that being said, if they did not pollute the water after it came from the well, someone polluted the ground water and should be held responsible and fined the maximum allowable. If the wells are on CUCs property, which I think they are, more than likely they polluted the ground water first.

  10. The easiest way to control water discharge temperature is through air cooling. Imagine a small pond (or. perhaps) North Sound, with four or five large water discharge nozzles aimed up at about a 60 degree angle. The water pressure and the nozzle discharge pattern will control the resulting temperature. The pollution issues at the dump are not as easy to solve. Recycling is a good starting point. The garbage and other combustibles could be burned in a hi-temperature furnace which, in turn, generates electricity. The remaining ash can be used for fill as long as there is not a heavy metals problem (such as lead, cesium, etc. in the garbage. The high temperature furnace would use oil to get the necessary heat but the total system would result in the production of cheaper electricity and would not damage air quality as long as the stack output is monitored.

  11. I’m a chemist and even after trying to read this 3 times, I am still clueless as to what is in the water. The hydrocarbon level is below the levels detectable by the tests but the tests have have detected them (paragraph 14)? If all the tests they are running can detect is 3.9 ppm, the lab must be back in the 1930’s. A halfway competent chemist could detect 0.1 ppm.

    Given this government and this island I sincerely doubt anyone doing these test has a degree. I’d happily offer to do the tests for them for free but 1. I doubt they have the equipment and 2. my competence (and degree) disqualify me. Only in Cayman…

  12. It’s a no brainer. Closed loop system with heat exchanger and deep cool water.
    Whilst I am on about it. They need to start scrubing the exhaust stack emissions for near term.
    The long term planning should include high performance, low emissions state-of-the-art aero-derivative industrial gas turbines.
    CUC is a 3rd world plant and managements focus is profits in lieu of environmental stewardship.

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