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Residents speak of what life is like living in Belco’s shadow

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Health concerns, stress, devalued properties, unpleasant odours, damaging debris and disruption are all part of daily life for residents around Belco. Sarah Lagan visited some of the families to ask them how this ongoing problem is affecting their lives and livelihoods.
Jermaine DeSilva at his family home on Twin Lane Drive, Pembroke (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Jermaine DeSilva cannot fathom leaving the house that has been in his family for generations yet, at the same time, he cannot bear the thought of his young family continuing to endure the pollution from the Belco power plant.

Both of his children, aged 16 and 11, suffer from allergies and their symptoms are worsening but he has no proof that it is connected to the foul air they breathe or debris that constantly coats their property.

“It’s getting bad and we are not sure if it's an effect from Belco,” he said.

“We try to deal with it as best we can. There must be some health problems that would arise from this. As a parent I am definitely concerned.

“My wife and I have discussed moving, but this is my great granny’s house, there’s a lot of history and emotion in this house.

“We’ve done quite a bit of renovations up here to get the place up to scratch and modernised.

“We would ideally love to stay here, but there is that other part that says maybe we should look at looking for somewhere else.

“But, the Belco stacks have devalued our property, it’s devalued all our properties here, so who is really going to want to move up here?”

Mr DeSilva said the problems had worsened since the North Power Station was built.

He showed us around his house on Twin Lane Drive, pointing out brown spots on the roof, the walkways and his patio, and he explained that it also lands on his vehicles.

Belco has repainted his roof and, following a debris fall out, cleaned and refilled his water tank but it gives him little comfort.

“You can clean the tank you can clean the roof but what about the pipes?

The roof at Jermaine DeSilva’s family home on Twin Lane Drive, Pembroke (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

“I think there are other things Belco can do or at least try to compensate people better. They could install filtration systems in people’s houses.

“As it stands now we don’t drink our water – we use the it to wash dishes and to bathe and brush our teeth, but that could even have some spin-offs.”

Thad Murdoch, an environmental scientist, lives on a large property on Juniper Hill Drive, but rarely gets to enjoy his outside space because of the smoke and odours that drift over from Belco.

Thad Murdoch at his property on Juniper Hill Drive, Pembroke (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Dr Murdoch said: “My daughter has a rare genetic disorder and she has epilepsy because of it. She can’t tolerate the smoke, even the noise is bad for her, but on a hot muggy day the air is really bad.

“My perfectly healthy son also doesn’t want to be outside – the air is quite foul which means we have to go inside and turn on the air conditioner, spending money which we give to Belco to make our inside air breathable!

“It is stressful, we want to go out and do things, my son wants to play. He’s four years old and he knows what it is – he says ‘the smoke stacks are making it stinky’,” Dr Murdoch explained.

Thad Murdoch holding debris gathered at the water catchment at his property on Juniper Hill Drive, Pembroke (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
What Belco says

Belco released the following statement after a recent debris fall out after the restarting of an engine at the North Power Station: “During the last year and a half, Belco has executed a phased approach to addressing the fall out occurrences from the NPS.

“Phase 1 involved installation of shims on the four NPS engines and this project is 100 per cent complete. Phase 2 included the retrofitting of piston crowns with this work completed on all four engines by the end of January.

“Now it has been completed, Belco has made a commitment to the neighbouring community to address this issue and will continue to monitor and adjust operations, until the plant is running at optimum efficiency.

“The Belco team is also committed to addressing complaints concerning impacts to property, roof painting and water filtration systems on a case-by-case basis.

“Where it is evident that a property has been impacted by Belco operations, mitigation measures will be handled in accordance with standing policies.

“Belco remains cautiously optimistic that the changes being made to the NPS engines will improve combustion and reduce emission fallout occurrences in the future.

“Belco is subject to various reporting requirements and is within the standards set by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources concerning emissions.

“Belco’s Occupational Health Safety and Environment team continues to take readings, measurements, and samples, and is aware of the composition of the emissions and fallouts, which have been reported to the authorities in compliance with Belco’s license requirements. In addition, Belco will be conducting further water testing in July.

“Belco is committed to and working towards achieving Net Zero by 2050 and is exploring alternative and renewable energy generation through the use of wind, solar and the possible transition from Heavy Fuel Oil to Natural Gas (NG).

“Belco looks forward to continuing dialogue and engagement with the community as they continue to build a clean, safe and renewable energy future for Bermuda.

“Property owners who were impacted by the fallout today should reach out directly to the OHSE team via e-mail at ohse@belco.bm Any questions or concerns will be addressed as a priority.”

Dr Murdoch says the family have not pursued investments such as having an Airbnb. He said the property has been devalued by several hundred thousand dollars.

He said that Belco would not provide a filtration system in his home but has paid to repaint part of his roof. However, he said when soot and rusty debris rains down on freshly laid paint, as it does on his house, it is a far cry from a solution.

Three generations of Danielle Riviere’s family are negatively affected by the pollution – her elderly parents who live on St John’s Road, and herself and her children who live a short distance away on Underhill Lane. She says her father, and her auntie who also lives in the area, have lost their sense of smell.

“I think it is the reality when you are constantly breathing something in. Belco tried to say it was because my parents live next the roadside – there are plenty of people living on the roadside who are not getting the same impact.”

Danielle Riviere at her home on Underhill Lane, Pembroke (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Ms Riviere, whose parents have rusty water stains covering large swathes their external walls, said that the biggest concern was their health.

“That’s the biggest hardship for me – they are seniors. Their house has a historical perspective – that is my great grandmother’s house and for my mother to say that she wants to sell it is an impossible thought for her.”

Speaking about a statement released by the Government reiterating that clean air laws are being drafted, Ms Riviere said more is needed to be done by legislators as well as Belco.

She added: “I am sick of hearing that we are in compliance – there is no contamination based on what they have to test for but they don’t have to test for certain things.

“I’m all for the talk but we are passed that now we have been living through this for too long. The legislation needs to be in place.”

Underhill Lane (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published August 02, 2022 at 7:54 am (Updated August 02, 2022 at 7:54 am)

Residents speak of what life is like living in Belco’s shadow

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