By Esther Durand, BVI News Staff
After years of being exposed to unfiltered smoke emissions in their community, residents of Pockwood Pond have said they are now in fear for their lives and the wellbeing of their families.
During a community meeting on Tuesday evening, several residents spoke out against government officials and what is being described as a lacklustre attempt to procure and install a ‘scrubber device’, which is to be used to filter the noxious fumes being emitted from government’s incinerator in Pockwood Pond.
“This is years now we hearing we are getting scrubbers … When are these scrubbers going to get here?” Asked one female resident who said some persons in the community have now developed respiratory illnesses.
“You have persons that never have asthma, and from the time all these burning and smoking [started, they now] have asthma,” she said.
She said one of her grandchildren is among the persons who have developed these respiratory problems, adding that this has taken a toll on her pockets.
The resident told government officials that she has spent a considerable amount on hospital visits and air purifier machines.
One male resident of Pockwood Pond also claims his health and that of his family have been consistently deteriorating — so much so that he now uses and carries around four different types of inhalers.
Smoke emissions have devalued my property
He further claimed that the smoke emission issue has devalued his property and has made it considerably difficult to sell. This, he said, has forced him to remain in the area, despite his desire to relocate.
While responding to the concerns of residents, Health Minister Ronnie Skelton said: “It is true that since I am here about six to seven years, I should already have a scrubber on the incinerator. But, I don’t and I’m not going to find any excuses for it,” he said.
He said the incinerator that is now in use at Pockwood Pond was purchased during his government’s 2003 to 2007 term in office. He further said a scrubber was supposed to arrive with it that scrubber but that did not happen and the incinerator was installed without it.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Petrona Davies said the government had ordered the incinerator from a Virginia-based company called Consutech and the corresponding scrubber is still being manufactured.
She said the delay in getting the scrubber hinged on a supplier who was contracted by Consutech but that supplier later went out of business; forcing the company to seek other alternatives.
$400,000 spent on absent scrubber, so far
Davies explained that a scrubber had to be ‘completely’ engineered and designed to fit the incinerator and finding the skills to do that took some time.
“It has been years of effort because we at the Ministry of Health understand the importance of having the scrubber installed,” she told community members.
She said $400,000 – which represents half of the total cost of the scrubber – has already been paid and it has been in manufacturing mode ever since.
She also said the BVI does not have the luxury of going to a different company as the incinerator was bought from Consutech and that company is trying to assist the territory.
“It is frustrating and it is embarrassing,” she admitted. “If there is something more that we could do to have the scrubber installed sooner, we would have done it.”
Head of the Department of Waste Management Greg Massicote said a BVI representative previously paid a visit to Consutech to check on the progress of the scrubber. But, in light of the increased urgency, he said another visit needs to happen.
Residents have plans to form a ‘union’ that will serve as a conduit between the community and the government as it relates to finding solutions for the problems surrounding this particular issue.