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Department could have done much better

Web Posted - Wed Jun 15 2005
There was an excerpt of a statement made by Mr. Jeff Headley, Director of Environmental Protection Department/ Division (EPD) a local radio stations 5:30 p.m. news on June 3 (part of which was also reported in another section of the Press on the June 9, 2005). According to Headley, the problem at the Louis Lynch School first surfaced about 1991. The smokestack of the laundry was lengthened and between 1991 and recently, there were no problems. He lamented the lack of correct equipment and skilled manpower, which he claimed hindered his section in solving the problem at the school.

He further exhorted the public to let the team of scientists do their work ... we have heard that there are concentration levels ... minimum and maximum levels (of perchloroethylene) ... etc. In the critical analysis below, it will be shown that the EPD could have done better.

The chemical perchloroethylene has been used in the laundry business for over 50 years. It is organo-chloride compound like lindane an insecticide (which was once used in Barbados) and belongs to the group of chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POP). These chemicals bio-accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals and humans and have been banned under the Stockholm Convention in the Scandinavian countries.

The effect of percloroethylene on human health is well documented in the scientific literature. Biological exposure indices are readily available. Therefore, the exhortation to give the scientists a chance is meaningless, since the local scientists are not engaged in any ground-breaking work. Furthermore, to talk about maximum and minimum limits is immaterial, since perchloroethylene has a cumulative effect. That is, there is an additive effect based on the concentration per exposure and the number of exposures. It also accumulates in fatty foods (butter) in grocery stores and residences near dry-cleaning facilities (Diachenko, 1991. Food and Drug Administration).

Presumably, the EPD members are unaware of the book Silent Spring by Rachael Carson which was published in the 1960s and which documents the effects of organo-chloride on the biota.

The shunting of the emissions a greater distance into the atmosphere assumes that the contaminants would just disappear. This an example of where the department went wrong.

What about the effect on persons down wind? Were attempts made to get hold of the Merck chemical Index. Anyone who is familiar with analytical chemistry knows about this Index. It lists chemicals, giving their toxicity and effect on humans, etc.

Given that the Internet was not available to non-scientists in 1991, the Index could have easily been purchased. Failing that, the EPD should have communicated with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the USA requesting information on emissions from laundries and their effects on the environment and humans.

To say that there was a lack of equipment and manpower is a flimsy excuse.

Is Headley telling the public that the EPD senior managers are not trained in the chemical and biological sciences and realizing that there was a manpower shortage, recognized that they were not able to do or interpret analytical tests?

If there is a shortage of man-power, senior management are expected to put on their laboratory coats and borrow or rent the use of facilities and carry out the analyses themselves. After all, this is science that one is dealing with and not law or management.

Robert D. Lucas, PH.D. Food bio-technologist.s

Barbados Advocate



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