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Air-quality checks cease after budget is slashed

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Empty: The housing for an air-monitoring station run by the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences on Crow Lane Park by East Broadway leading into Hamilton is now vacant of equipment (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Funding has been pulled for Bermuda’s only islandwide air-pollution monitoring programme.

The move this year came even as the Government pledged tougher clean-air legislation after an outcry over Belco emissions from the island’s power supplier.

The abrupt withdrawal of the annual grant for a decades-old scientific survey was said to come as a shock to staff at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences along with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Scientific equipment for three air-monitoring stations — at East Broadway in Pembroke, as well as Prospect, Devonshire and Bios in St George’s — was packed in after the announcement in April, made for budgetary reasons.

A home affairs ministry spokesman confirmed that the grant had been eliminated after the ministry’s budget was cut by 9 per cent.

He said: “Due to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ budget being reduced by 9 per cent, the island’s air-monitoring programme, which costs $230,000, was among others that had to be cut.

“This impacted the monitoring of air quality on East Broadway, Prospect Devonshire, near the Tynes Bay Waste to Energy Facility, and St George’s as a control site.”

He added: “We hope this is a temporary arrangement and will continue seeking savings and other opportunities to fund this important initiative.”

An empty unit remains at Crow Lane Park alongside East Broadway at the entrance to the City of Hamilton, but the equipment has been removed.

Two sources familiar with the Bios project, which dates back to the 1980s, told The Royal Gazette at the weekend that the island had been left flying blind in monitoring its air quality as a result.

The sole exception is Belco’s self-monitoring to track its emissions, which have angered neighbours in Pembroke since the utility’s North Power Station came online in April 2020.

Belco is required to track air quality under the terms of its operating licence.

Bios, an independent research station working in tandem with the Government, has been tracking the island’s air pollution since before the Tynes Bay incinerator on North Shore started running, burning trash that was previously landfilled at the dump in Pembroke.

Regulations were added in 1993 to the Clean Air Act 1991 in anticipation of the incinerator starting operations in 1994 — although Tynes Bay fell short of emission limits repeatedly, according to a 2012 report.

The Bios air-pollution monitoring programme, said to run at a cost of $230,00 annually, was terminated after the delivery of the 2022-23 Budget.

A source close to the project told the Gazette that the plug was pulled for cost reasons, short of making people connected with the project redundant.

Staff for the project were told in April that it would be shut down at the end of the month, with one source adding that the news was received with “disbelief” in light of the environment-friendly initiatives such as electric buses touted by the Government.

Empty: The housing for an air-monitoring station run by the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences on Crow Lane Park by East Broadway leading into Hamilton is now vacant of equipment (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

“Bermuda is promoting itself as environmentally conscious,” the source said. “The Clean Air Act has needed updating for years. People were not happy to hear this.”

The source added that the project was considerably cheaper than bringing in consultants to track pollution.

The monitoring stations filter and analyse air, with the East Broadway unit largely catching traffic emissions.

The field station at Fort Prospect tracks emissions from Tynes Bay but also monitors air quality from Hamilton and emissions from Belco, depending on wind direction.

The continuing air-monitoring project was said to be one of the few remaining Bios programmes that directly involved the Government.

With air-pollution instruments now mothballed, and staff unsure if the programme will be reinstated, the future of the equipment was said to be in question.

The apparatus is best maintained when left running continuously, the source said.

The source added: “A long-term project like this, it’s not a light you can just switch back on again.”

The Gazette sent queries over the weekend to Bios as well as the Ministry of Home Affairs, which covers the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

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Published August 08, 2022 at 7:59 am (Updated August 07, 2022 at 5:39 pm)

Air-quality checks cease after budget is slashed

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