Guyana Water Inc must look at the safety of water throughout the populated areas Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
June 9, 2002

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Many, many consumers value safe food, safe drinking water. One can well imagine their concern when they are doubtful about the safety of their drinking water. US attorney Dennison Smith tells us about the concerns in the Bartica region.

"Guyana, The Land Of Troubled Waters

"Since the disastrous cyanide spill from the Omai Gold Mines Limited (OGML) operation on the Essequibo River, the Guyana Research and Environmental Education Network (GREEN), has been calling for independent oversight of the extent to which OGML has been in compliance with the effluent limitations and monitoring requirements of their permit. We have also demanded zero effluent discharge from the plant since the Guyana Environmental Protection Agency (GUYEPA) and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) do not have the institutional capacity needed to monitor the extent of OGML's compliance with the permit requirements.

Although our calls have gone unheeded, the residents who have to use the river water have been relentless in their opposition to the lack of concern shown by the government for their health and environment.

"Continuing surveys by GREEN in addition to a recent poll conducted by a US based Toxicologist/ Environ-mental Epidemiologist, hired by GREEN, of residents representing a majority of the villagers and villages which were directly affected by the disaster of August 1995, exposed several issues which are cause for alarm. These include:

1. Since the disaster of August 1995 there has been no official advisory issued by the GUYEPA or any other Government of Guyana (GOG) agency about the potability of the river water.

2. The residents continue to use the water as though it is a US Class A designated water body, i.e. for water supply, (domestic, industrial, agricultural, stock watering, fish migration, fish rearing, spawning and harvesting, wildlife habitat, primary contact recreation, fishing, boating and aesthetic enjoyment, commerce and navigation).

3. The residents, especially the fishermen, report that since the disaster the river has been degraded by the continuing discharges, and that this pollution has led to mass death of fish and mammals and may have contributed to the widespread occurrence of harmful and toxic algae, resulting in the definite decline of the most sensitive species such as the bush Packoo fish.

4. The residents suspect that the reproductive problems plaguing the community may well be due to pollutants which have collected in the fish and which have moved up the human food chain.

5. OGML representative, Mr Norman McLean, in response to the residents of Monkey Jump concern for the pollution by sediments into the river last November, responded in a letter of November 28th, 2001, that 'to be definite, sampling and testing of the river water will have to be done by a competent and independent authority.'

6. Following up on Mr McLean's assertion in his letter of November 28th, the residents wish to know whether the GGMC and GUYEPA joint team has conducted their 'sampling and testing and other studies' and eagerly await 'their findings and pronouncement.'

"It must be noted that OGML claims to be following North American standards for monitoring their effluent. Are they adhering to the requirements that state:

a) 'Notwithstanding specific conditions of the permit, the effluent must not lower the quality of any classified body of water below such classification, or lower the existing quality of any body of water if the existing quality is higher than the classification, or,

b) 'The effluent shall not contain materials in concentrations or combinations which are hazardous or toxic to aquatic life or which would impair the uses designated by the classification of the receiving waters.' e.g., Has the joint team collected effluent and river data to adequately assess downstream impacts of effluent discharged during critical periods, including dry season, periods of low flow, etc?

Has the joint team tested the integrity of the diffuser at the OGML discharge site? Has it also looked for dissolved oxygen sags beyond the mixing zone at the OGML site?

"The Toxicologist/ Environmental Epidemiologist consultant to GREEN who visited the area from March 15-18 is preparing a survey report which will be used as a basis for setting baseline criteria for establishing independent monitoring protocols and for supporting the residents in building a bridge over the troubled waters of Essequibo."

Let us hope that Guyana Water Inc. will look at the safety of water throughout the populated areas of Guyana.