Department could have done much better
- 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
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
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
Robert D. Lucas, PH.D. Food bio-technologist.s
Barbados Advocate ©