Poisoned land triggers major public health probe

| 03/07/2015 | 28 Comments
Cayman News Service

Household hazardous waste on Powell land in August 2005

(CNS): After a decade-long saga to get government to take the situation seriously, a major public health investigation is finally underway on land that was poisoned with arsenic and other dangerous substances when it was used as a debris site during the post Hurricane Ivan recovery. Government officials revealed yesterday that testing by local and international experts on the Frank Sound land is now underway. The Powell family brought their concerns to CNS earlier this year and since the situation was made public, government has stepped up the action.

In a release on Thursday public health officials said they were now “operating at a heightened state of awareness and vigilance” and experts from the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) and the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Science (ICENS) had arrived in Cayman and were now carrying out testing and collecting sample additional samples.

While arsenic is a natural component of the earth’s crust and is widely distributed throughout the environment in the air, water and land, it is still toxic in its organic form. “The Public Health Department will continue to closely collaborate with overseas partners to determine if any public health response may be warranted,” the government said in a release, after ten years of procrastination over the problem.

Chad Powell first spoke to CNS in April, when he told us that the family had been wrangling with government for years over the state of the land and the government’s contractual obligations to clean it up after his father, former fire officer Charles Powell, had allowed the land to be used after the 2004 hurricane by MC Restoration, the group which secured the post-Ivan clean up contract.

Cayman News Service

Ash mound before it was spread on Powell’s land in 2006

Although government said at the time it was looking at a way to clean up the land, the cabinet secretary who had taken over the problem had downplayed the dangers on the site that the elevated arsenic and other toxic substances were causing, despite its proximity to the Clifton Hunter High School. Samuel Rose, however, said his office was working closely with the local agencies involved and the family to resolve the problem of the contamination.

With livestock dying, the well water poisoned and numerous question marks over the state of the land, the Powery Family said that their land had been rendered worthless and toxic but they could not get government to address it.

However, on Thursday Powell said the family were pleased that since they spoke with CNS and went public with their situation the Cabinet had been much more cooperative and now it was matter of waiting and seeing what would happen to clean up the land, which is around 14 acres, now that international and independent experts were involved.

Government said it had called in PAHO and the ICENS as those agencies have access to additional resources unavailable in the Cayman Islands.

Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr Samuel Williams, said the public health department had already started to collect biological and environmental samples for analysis under their guidance but now the international agencies have sent members of their own teams from Jamaica, which indicates that the contamination is as serious as the Powells have been claiming for a long time.

After many reports over the years, including the latest one from the Water Authority identifying the high levels of arsenic in soil samples and in a domestic well, government has begun to act more decisively

Premier Alden McLaughlin, who is now responsible for environmental health, said he was confident that proper and adequate procedures were being carried out.

“All protocols in conducting an investigation of this nature are being observed.  We are thankful to our international partners PAHO and ICENS for their assistance.  The health and safety of our population is paramount,” he said.

The Powells told CNS that throughout their ten-year long saga they had raised their concerns with McLaughlin and many other local politicians as they took office but they felt the authorities were simply ignoring them.

“I tried to help, like many people did, in the wake of Ivan but now government does not want to help me,” he told CNS. “This has been a living nightmare,” he added, stressing his complete lack of trust in anything the authorities tell him since it has taken so long for them to address the issue, when they have known for years that the land is poisoned as a result of the material processed there post-Ivan.

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Comments (28)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This why everyone on this island is sick with these bad viruses and flu!!!!! Una need to clean this junk up! And also give your people better health services! GT hospital needs to be invested into! Update ASAP!

  2. Know the facts before judging please.

    I couldn’t help but read some misleading comments on various media sites so just to clarify a few things.

    1) Mr. Powell was asked by the C.I.R.O (Cayman Islands Recovery Operation – a joint team between MC Restoration and the CI GOV) to use his facility as a temporary debris reduction site. – Letter shared with Media

    2) In that letter it stated clearly that “All hazardous materials would be removed from this site daily”

    3) “50% of all processed material was to remain for the owners use” This would obviously mean after the hazardous materials were removed.

    4) In a separate Contract form the C.I.R.O it stated that “The Construction and Demolition Debris shall be separated and then ground or burned as instructed by government”

    5) “All Construction and Demolition Debris shall be separated, sand will be screened and recovered and the remaining debris will be properly disposed of in a manner consistent with local laws and regulations.”

    6) “All municipal solid waste, medical or hazardous waste, or non-burnable material shall be separated and disposed of”

    So please before you make judgments or assumptions about anyone, know all the facts and be sure to visit the Facebook page to post any comments or questions there. https://goo.gl/48jqf5 or http://www.facebook.com/pages/CIRO-Cayman-Islands-Recovery-Operation/1403432376632527

    • Anonymous says:

      Were you were there on the ground during the dumping operation, burning, illegal ash spreading and DEH ash removal. If so you would know exactly what happened, all else is just speculmaylaytion. By the way, ash is very costly, time consuming and hazardous to clean up/remove once it is spread. In this case it was spread by the land owner and I’m quite sure there photos and documents to back that up somewhere.

  3. Just Sayin' says:

    Anybody who puts their trust in the government of the Cayman Islands deserves whatever they get.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ivan happened in 2004 and this is the first we are hearing about this? This just goes to show you how government COVERS WHAT THEY WANT UP!!! It concerns me that Government called them in. How much will that be covered up? Look at the education report???

  4. Ellie says:

    This type of occurrence and the lack of regulations is the reason I never buy a property in Cayman. The risk of contaminates is too high not just form this site and the Dump but also from unknown smaller locations.

  5. Anonymous says:

    While it’s arsenic that grabs the headlines the wood is also treated with copper and chromium, both of which are also toxic.

    Apart from not being burned it should not be dumped in unlined landfill sites but there must be tons of this material in Mt Trashmore. Over time the chemicals in the wood dumped there will leach out poisoning both the garbage and the surrounding soil. When the tip burns those toxic substances will most likely be spread in the smoke the fire produces.

    As a further thought on this I’ll bet that not much consideration was ever given to workplace health and safety issues when it was being used in construction projects or when buildings containing it were demolished.

    It sounds like blissful (or in this case not so) ignorance all round.

  6. V Sacee says:

    To answer your questions 2:20pm simple because the government signed a legal bidding contract saying they would! as for you 4:11am the trouble with ignorance is that it picks up confidence as it goes along.The sole reason it end on Mr Powell”s property is because the government came begging for an alternative site after as 2:45pm stated the Spotts Newlands residents became alarmed and objected to it’s presence in their neighborhood. I hope that is Straight forward enough for you? I guess you too will be like the DOE director who when she was confronted about the situation in a public meeting in Northside who said “I never dumped anything on your property” or the then Disaster Coordinator who threatened to fight Mr Powell. Here’s a little irony about the situation when he approached the then opposition leader he was told to sue the government the same minister now is incharge of Health.

  7. Anonymous says:

    This type of occurance and the lack of regulations is the reason I never buy any produce grown in Cayman. The risk of contaminates is too high and you do not know what has been grown where. These poisons get into the water lens and spread.

  8. Sharkey says:

    This issue is much more larger than we think. We have to look at the importation of things that can’t be sold to the consumer of that country where it was made, because of what is in the product. Why we import these kind of things that will help kill us and cause other problems in our lives, if not handled and disposed with in the proper way. This is why the Government has the responsibility to protect the people /country all the time.

    • Anonymous says:

      A very good point and one that needs to be addressed. The risks involved with the use of CCA-treated wood were well documented long before Ivan. Despite this it appears to have always been cleared by customs without any restrictions or special handling requirements. I wonder who the major importers were and if they are still being allowed to import this material unrestricted?

  9. Selfish, Evil People.. says:

    Having re-read the posts above, please confirm if I understand clearly. For whatever reason (even if it was to gain some personal benefit) a land owner ends up with toxic waste that not only kills – but kills painfully by slowly destroying your organs- and a response is ” too bad”, your fault, clean it up yourself? Honestly? What a mean, hateful thing to say. And with people that feel that way about human life, do you understand now why we have some of the problems we have? GOD forgive us, for we know not what we say, do and feel. The Devil and Evil surely lives here.

  10. Anonymous says:

    the top picture is too new for 2004 and the propane tank belongs to home gas and the A/C freon tanks are newer also. Perhaps just a little CSI would solve who has been dumping on this property and acting like its from 10 years ago

  11. Ironman says:

    Who were the principles in MC Restoration?

    • Anonymous says:

      Same ones that are building the proposed Iron Wood Project!

      • Anonymous says:

        And the same muppets who allowed 25+ barrels of waste oil to be disposed of on one of the principal’s land lots further up Frank Sound Road. The slick is probably still there under the muck.

  12. Inquiring Mind says:

    Is this news? I read the same thing weeks ago, and I still haven’t seen where all this arsenic came from. Is it a secret?

    • Anonymous says:

      No secret, it came from pressure-treated wood. Arsenic is used to protect the wood from termites but you have to be very carefully disposing of it as waste – burning is a big no-no.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hopefully these experts can look into the toxicity levels at the other sites around the island that were used for post-Ivan processing. We live near the one in Spotts Newlands, and it was shocking to see what was burned there, and the color of the smoke that emanated from it.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Let me get this straight. These guys thought they were getting some cheap/free fill from Ivan debris, burnt a pile of pressure-treated wood, and then spread the toxic ash all over their land. Is that right? If so, why should the Government help them?

    • Anonymous says:

      Entitlement? Greed? Refusal to accept responsibility?

    • Sharkey says:

      Please let me get it straight. I think that a lot of us including Mr Powell did not know what the consequences would be without INFORMATION ON THE PRODUCT.

      • Anonymous says:

        So why use something if you don’t know what the consequences are? You have access to the internet right? A simple Google search for ‘burn pressure treated wood’ will tell you everything you needed to know. You need to accept responsibility for your mistake and deal with the clean up.

        • Anonymous says:

          I guess you didn’t go through Ivan and the no power of 6 or more weeks. It is difficult to google without power or mobile networks

    • Anonymous says:

      Let me get this straight. You don’t know what they thought, if they burned, spread the ashes or anything else about this do you?
      Which means your just spreading lies. Not helpful to anyone. Before you condemn someone for something please wait until you know the truth about who did what. These people are already paying for what happened. Only the government knows who is responsible which means you and I will never know.

    • Anonymous says:

      Almost, except, it wasn’t the Powells’ decision to burn the material (probably), the Powells were (probably) told it was ‘inert’ (remember Govt. has been avoiding this problem for a while apparently) and Govt. (apparently) agreed to ‘return the area to its natural state after using it as a temporary debris holding area’ (or something like that). So chalk it up to several bad decisions, maybe some bad communication, but it remains mainly Government’s problem to solve, i.e., pay for, because that’s how it works with ‘disasters’.

      The lesson to learn is to check what the current national disaster response plan says to do with disaster debris?

  15. Anonymous says:

    The government don’t care bout our lil ole problems. The government cares bout money. Money money money and lot’s of it.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Classic example of the blind leading the blind. Land owner helps out in the Hurricane Ivan cleanup by offering his land to dump debris, which is largely treated lumber. The land owner may seem that he’s trying to help but thinks that this debris will be just perfect to fill his swampy land after it is reduced to ash by the “mysterious” fires that just happen to start, at night and after the debris piles are at their highest.

    The DEH, may have know the risks to the land but don’t really have a coordinated management plan for operation or decommissioning of the site, they leave it to MC Restoration with very little oversight. WAC probably didn’t care too much either since the site is not over a fresh water lens like the High Rock Quarry debris site was. Dept. Agriculture were totally oblivious to the fact that the land owner was grazing cattle on this same contaminated land.

    No wonder there are unanswered questions about high cancer rate and mental illness in Cayman when people are just realizing the consequences of polluting your own backyards.

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