Wednesday, 14 March 2012 02:30
By Colin Sampson
Antigua St John's - Information reaching Caribarena.com has said raw sewage is routinely being poured into the environmentally sensitive Flashes area at an average rate of about 1,000 metric tons every month.
This means that every day, on average, sewage tanker trucks back up to the edge of the coastal mangrove wetlands nearest to the Cooks Sanitary Landfill and release over 30 tonnes of raw, untreated septic tank sludge directly into the swamp.
Caribarena.com recently highlighted this environmentally unsound practice in an article entitled “Sewage Being Poured into Mangroves” (February 23, 2010). Now, data supplied by the management of the sanitary landfill paints a picture as disturbing as the photographs that accompany this article.
The photographs clearly show the dark discoloration that marks the trail of untreated septic tank sludge as it meanders its way into the mangrove wetlands.
Chief Health Inspector Lionel Michael puts a positive spin on the practice, suggesting that the constant inflow of nitrates and phosphates actually fertilizes the mangrove plants. The chief health inspector maintains that the swamp vegetation is observably in better condition now than it was before the dumping began.
Michael also vouched for the quality of the ocean water adjacent to the Flashes district. He reports that testing in 2011 gave the area a clean bill of health. This, he said, provides sound basis for the conclusion that the swamp is able to adequately handle the constant inflow of raw septic tank effluent.
The chief health inspector readily concedes that the current primitive method of disposing of liquid waste at the Cooks “Sanitary” Landfill is not in accordance with best practices. He noted that the effluent should pass through a liquid waste treatment facility before being released into the environment.
Nor does Michael shrink from going on record with his view that the time is long overdue for the establishment of a sewage treatment system to serve the city of St John's. However, while such a system for St John's City would be a lengthy, highly disruptive, and stunningly expensive public works project, the picture is significantly different at the sanitary landfill.
A survey of available technologies for treating from 10,000 to 30,000 gallons of liquid waste per day shows that a suitable plant could be installed at the Cooks facility for something in the region of US$500,000. Annual operating costs are modest.
The 10-to 30,000 gallon range is selected to provide for ample redundancy. Although at present the landfill “disposes” of some 6,000 gallons per day on average, one can reasonably expect that the island will tend to produce greater volumes of excrement as growth and development continue.
One interesting feature of the current liquid waste disposal scenario is that the Fisheries Act of 1983 expressly forbids the dumping of untreated sewage into environmentally sensitive areas.
However, in order for this legislative prohibition to take effect, the area affected must first be declared to be a “Protected Area” under the act. Unsurprisingly, no steps have been taken to declare the Flashes wetlands to be such a protected area. Accordingly therefore, the Ministry of Health is free to continue “fertilizing” the Flashes with raw, untreated septic tank sewage without let or hindrance.
Another troublesome aspect is the easy equation of liquid waste (intended for treatment and disposal) with solid waste (intended for disposal in the landfill). The Cooks Sanitary Landfill charges the same derisory rate for accepting both types: a mere $5 per ton.
While the attractive rate of $5 per ton may be seen as a valiant and commendable attempt to encourage solid waste haulers to make use of the sanitary landfill, the yardstick is radically different when applied to septic tank effluent.
Raw sewage is in principle expected to undergo treatment before release into the environment. In the context of an appropriate sewage treatment facility, this would translate into a disposal charge significantly higher than that currently being applied. In essence, therefore, the absence of a suitable facility at the landfill is gifting liquid waste haulers with a negligible disposal cost.
The sweetness of the deal is driven home when one learns that the base cost of pumping an average-sized home septic tank comes in at $400 – and that your average home septic tank has a capacity of under one ton.
Of course, liquid waste haulers face capital, fuel, and other operating costs which must be taken into consideration. However, one can hardly escape the conclusion that, owing to a joint lack of vision and will at the ministries of health and of the environment, the Flashes wetlands area is seriously subsidizing the booming sewage hauling business.
See related stories:
Sewage Being Poured into Mangroves