The incinerator at the Cayman Brac landfill is back up and running after being in disrepair for nearly four months – a situation that led to untreated medical waste being dumped in an open trench there, in violation of public health regulations.
However, the incinerator at the George Town landfill is now broken, according to the Department of Environmental Health. But unlike on the Brac, medical waste is being stored on roll-off containers instead of being dumped untreated.
Internal correspondence obtained via an open records request details the Department of Environmental Health’s struggles to keep both incinerators running over the last several months.
After the Brac incinerator broke down in April, a technician was sent there on April 24, according to emails between department officials.
“Unfortunately he could not repair the unit because two major parts of the incinerator is burnt. He told me that he will source them from overseas and notify us on the cost,” states an April 25 email from Patience Eke, the environmental health officer for the Sister Islands. “Sadly, we have to start disposing of the medical waste into the trench again.”
When the Compass published a story on May 7 about untreated medical waste being dumped at the Brac landfill, Health Ministry officials began pressing the matter. Health Ministry Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn sent an email to various ministry and department officials, telling them to “get a proposed plan together asap” so it can be communicated to the public.
Jim Schubert, a senior project manager for the Public Works Department, suggested that the medical waste be transported on a barge from the Brac to Grand Cayman, where it would be incinerated at the George Town landfill. But Ms. Eke cautioned that the medical waste would have to be transported with food and other household items.
“For [Department of Environmental Health] to ship medical waste in the same barge, we will need a special twenty or forty foot container and the medical waste must be pretreated to be transported in the same barge that carry foods and other household items,” Ms. Eke wrote to the other officials on May 17.
Instead of transporting the waste to Grand Cayman for incineration, the department continued to dispose the untreated waste at the Brac landfill, covering the waste with a layer of soil after every dump.
On June 12, a Department of Environmental Health technician notified department and ministry officials that the Brac incinerator “is back in full operation.”
“But what about the [George Town landfill] repairs?” responded one of his colleagues. “Please, report on progress with these much needed repairs.”
In response to a question about this email exchange, the Department of Environmental Health told the Compass that the George Town landfill incinerator was broken from May 30 to June 30 due to a “malfunctioning refractory” – a heat-resistant material used in incinerators and furnaces. This means that both incinerators were broken for a period of time.
Meanwhile, the Brac incinerator broke again on June 18, according to department emails.
“The incinerator was repaired on the 8th of June through the 9th of June. The first combustion was fairly ok. We did the second burning on the 13th of June. The unit was opened today and the operator realized that there was some defects,” wrote Ms. Eke on June 18. “The technician was contacted and he promised to revisit on or before the 21st of June to rectify the defects.”
The technician indeed repaired the Brac incinerator on June 21. After briefly being down again from July 30 to Aug. 1 due to a “malfunctioning secondary burner,” the Brac incinerator is “currently operational,” the Department of Environmental Health told the Compass on Friday.
However, the George Town landfill incinerator broke down again on Aug. 2, as one of the burners within its primary chamber was damaged, the department stated.
“Arrangements are currently underway for its replacement,” the department stated on Friday.