Thursday, 23 February 2012 02:30
By Colin Sampson
Antigua St John's - Few residents in Antigua are aware that their raw sewage the effluent pumped from septic tanks all over the island is regularly poured by the tanker-load into the mangroves to the southeast of the Cooks Sanitary Landfill.
This area, known as The Flashes, is a swampy estuarine area where Antigua’s Big Creek empties into the sea near Seaforth’s and Five Islands.
This near-perennial watercourse carries the run-off from the island’s main watershed, draining the Body Ponds collection district. The Flashes is a significant wetlands area, known for its extensive growths of mangroves.
Caribarena.com recently received reports that sewage tanker trucks have been seen emptying their loads down a slope directly into that point of The Flashes nearest to the Cooks Sanitary Landfill.
The aerial photos accompanying this article show that this is indeed the case. In effect, significant volumes of raw, untreated fecal matter are routinely being discharged into an important coastal wetlands area.
The dark discoloration created by the frequent emptying of untreated sewage down the slope and thence directly into the water is clearly visible in the graphic photos.
The only way for laden sewage tanker trucks to enter the Cooks Sanitary Landfill (CSL) is through the facility’s main entrance on Union Road.
Caribarena.com’s own observations have confirmed that sewage tanker trucks are in fact using this official entrance to access their dumping point.
It is curious that the Cooks Sanitary Landfill, which is designed to handle solid waste, and operated by the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), should be facilitating the disposal of liquid waste. The management of liquid waste is properly the business of the Central Board of Health (CBH), under the direction of Chief Health Inspector Lionel Michael.
Caribarena.com’s initial conclusion, subsequently confirmed by the Chief Health Inspector, is that the sewage disposal method is mutually sanctioned by the CBH and by the NSWMA.
Manager of the landfill Mr Dubois neither confirmed nor denied this, but referred Caribarena.com to NSWMA General Manager Denise Roberts. Efforts to reach the GM have been singularly unsuccessful.
Caribarena.com is keenly interested in following the scent of the filthy lucre. This website would wish to ask the elusive NSWMA GM whether or not the volumes of raw septic tank sewage entering the CSL are being recorded.
Caribarena.com’s readers would also wish to know what rates are being charged for the landfill’s services as a dumping site, and how the proceeds are divided between the two government bodies.
It is rather more than curious that the CBH and the NSWMA should collaborate in choosing such a primitive and potentially polluting procedure to dispose of the island’s effluents. Both organisations fall under the Ministry of Health, and would therefore be expected to pursue best practices in the interest of the national health and also of a healthy (marine) environment.
Chief Health Inspector Lionel Michael bemoaned the absence of a sewage treatment and disposal system for the city of St Johns, something he considers necessary in this day and age.
Michael also conceded that the method of disposing of raw sewage currently in use at the Cooks Sanitary Landfill is far from acceptable. He accepted that the effluents being poured so freely into the mangrove swamp should ideally be subjected to an appropriate treatment process before being released into the coastal marine area.
However, the chief health inspector reported that the ocean quality off The Flashes area passed muster when last tested in 2011. This, Michael maintained, is proof that the mangroves are more than capable of dealing with the volumes of raw sewage annually being poured into it.
Michael painted the mangrove swamp as a sort of open-air natural sewage treatment area, easily performing its work of filtering run-off water before undesirable elements reach the ocean. In fact, he said, the mangroves are thriving, and in better condition now than they were before the sewage dumping began. This he attributed to the nitrates and phosphates (fertilizer) being abundantly supplied by the fecal matter.
In the meantime, the chief health inspector appealed to householders to stop pumping their septic tanks when it “looks full”. Michael counseled that it is in fact normal for a septic tank to seem full, but that a tank serving a household of four people should be pumped only every five years or so.
Householders not emptying their septic tank too often will, Michael said, help to reduce the quantities of raw septic sewage being discharged into the mangroves – at least until a more civilized disposal system can be implemented.
Photos courtesy of Antigua Conservation Society