Arsenic test results due in August; waste removal starts

Health inspectors have gone home and environmental officials have removed a truckload of bulk waste while Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose awaits results of arsenic testing on the Frank Sound farm. 

Researchers from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences (ICENS), both based at Kingston’s University of the West Indies, have tested 25 people – from the Charles Powell family and neighbors – for arsenic contamination and have drilled dozens of holes in an effort to determine “ground zero” for the poison. 

Both the soil and groundwater on the 14.5-acre Powell family farm will be assessed at the Jamaica laboratories, with results due sometime in August. 

“The collection of samples has … been concluded and we now await the conclusion of testing and receipt of the report[s] from PAHO and ICENS – which we do not anticipate for several weeks,” Mr. Rose said. 

PAHO spokesman Sebastian Oliel offered more detail, saying one PAHO official and two ICENS investigators conducted the tests, but he was uncertain about the results and dates: “[E]xperts from PAHO and from ICENS … collected samples of water, soil, fruits, grass and dead animals. 

“Additionally, samples were taken for analysis from 25 people in the area. The samples were then sent to ICENS’s laboratories in Kingston, Jamaica,” he said. 

“The results of these tests and other findings of the investigation are expected to be ready in August and will be delivered to Cayman authorities. We don’t know exactly when in August that will be.” 

Mr. Rose said he hoped for a general release of the findings: “It is our intention to make the report public.” 

Neither Mr. Rose nor Mr. Oliel would speculate on post-report plans should results indicate site remediation is required: “As you know, the initial objective of this investigation is to assess the levels – if any – of arsenic in the environment and in people living in the area. 

“This information will be used to develop recommendations for addressing any problems uncovered,” Mr. Oliel said. Chad Powell, son of farm owner Charles Powell, said soil and water sampling – and family testing – concluded July 10. 

“The Water Authority was also up there with PAHO and ICENS,” he said, “although not all at the same time. 

“We’re going to wait for the initial results,” he said. 

Just prior to the PAHO and ICENS departures, he said, three workers from the Department of Environmental Health removed a truckload of what Mr. Powell described as “hazardous materials,” comprising tires, paint cans, metal containers, plastic piping and general scrap. 

Roydell Carter, director at the Cayman Islands Department of Environmental Health, estimated that 15 cubic feet of waste had been removed in one truckload: “Bulky items, cans, metal, it was spread all over the place.” 

He said they would complete the cleanup – “maybe another couple of truckloads,” – but “we have to wait until the site settles and dries out from the rains before we can do anything. We have to walk it and see what is there exactly.” 

He said the possibility of arsenic contamination of local land and water did not affect the bulky materials the Department of Environmental Health workers removed. 

“They are two different things,” he said. “The tests are on the soil of Grand Cayman for contamination, and we already knew about the arsenic. We moved what we knew about.” 

The removed waste was sorted and stored at the George Town Landfill. 

“We had to clean up the mess left by the previous contractor,” Mr. Carter said. 

The contractor, MC Restoration, was employed by the Cayman Islands Recovery Operation in the wake of Hurricane Ivan to aid in the cleanup. Part of the operation was centralization of bulk waste from five sites around the island and incineration of vegetable matter and pressure-treated wood at the Powell farm site. 

The wood was infused with arsenic, which occurs naturally in modest quantities and is used as an anti-fungal agent to prevent rotting in extreme weather. Arsenic-laden post-incineration ash was stored on the Powell farm and ultimately abandoned. 

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  1. Should not be samples collected during dry and wet weather?
    It is appears that a group of technicians came to collect samples. Did this project have a quality assurance plan before they began collecting samples?