Cabinet secretary advises ‘precautionary measures’ continue
Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose has released an “update” on July’s probe of arsenic contamination at a Frank Sound farm near Clifton Hunter High School but has declined to describe the results.
In a two-paragraph statement on Friday morning, Mr. Rose said only that “a number of tests have been completed. However a number of tests still remain to be completed or are under way.”
Until the analyses are complete, however, Mr. Rose said, “families who have been tested have been advised to continue the precautionary measures recommended by the Public Health Department. We hope to provide a further update in the upcoming weeks.”
Mr. Rose declined to further comment, however, leaving a number of questions unanswered.
Chad Powell, son of landowner Charles Powell, said he had learned no more about the extent of the arsenic contamination on the 14.5-acre farm, adjacent to uncle Tony Powell’s land and only 500 feet from Clifton Hunter High School.
“They gave us the same update as they gave to you,” the younger Mr. Powell said. “We are trying to remain patient and calm, but it’s worrying with those health tests. We have not heard anything.”
On July 10, the Kingston, Jamaica offices of the Pan American Health Organization and the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences completed a week of tests at the Powell farm, drilling as many as 45 holes, 21 in three particular areas, sampling soil, groundwater, fruit, grass and dead animals, and testing 25 people in an effort to determine the extent of contamination left a decade ago from post-hurricane Ivan incineration of arsenic-infused plywood.
The tests came at the request of Mr. Rose and then Medical Officer of Health Kiran Kumar after the Powell family renewed decade-old complaints about post-Ivan abandonment of 250,000 cubic yards of contaminated ash, hazardous waste, tires and other refuse on the land.
A 2006 assessment of the area by the Water Authority found traces of chromium, lead and benzene in the soil and water, and toxic ash above and below ground.
In a letter to former Cabinet Secretary Orrett Connor, authority Director Gelia Frederick-van Genderen said “ash and mulch could pose long-term environmental problems …”
While some of the waste – including 4,000 cubic yards of ash – was removed to the George Town landfill that same year by the Department of Environmental Health, most remained behind, left by government contractor MC Restoration.
A second Water Authority report made in May last year, but not released until January, found “buried debris mixed with ash, baled metals and household hazardous waste had not been removed from the site … To the authority’s knowledge and, as confirmed by the property owner, the buried debris mixed with ash, buried on the northern part of the site remains in place.”
In July, Mr. Rose and Dr. Kumar invited PAHO and ICENS to determine the effect of the arsenic, in particular, on the land and family.
During the testing, DEH removed another 15 cubic feet of tires, paint cans, metal containers, plastic piping and general scrap with promises of further action.
While the cabinet secretary had forecast test results by late August, Friday’s statement offered few answers.
Among other things, it did not address Powell family health concerns or suggest when the full array of test results might be known.
Nor did the release address possible contamination at the 850-student Clifton Hunter High School, due to reopen this week.
“We tried contacting the PAHO directly, asking if they were willing to share any information, but we have heard nothing back yet,” Chad Powell said.
He said a Freedom of Information request seeking documents regarding MC Restoration, government agreements and Cabinet records remained unanswered after 30 days.
“[We] remain fully committed to seeing this important process completed,” Mr. Rose said. “In closing, we wish to publicly thank the families involved for their continued patience and cooperation.”