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Watchdog calls for restoration of air-monitoring equipment

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Pollution problem: residents have voiced concerns about emissions from Belco including soot fallouts from the North Power Station (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda’s environmental watchdog is to call on the Minister of Home Affairs to reconsider the decision to defund the Government’s air quality monitoring programme.

The Environmental Authority raised the matter at a recent meeting where Belco air-quality updates were discussed including a potential abatement strategy by the energy plant to prevent its emissions from reaching ground level.

The EA is the statutory body under which the Belco electrical generating facility is licensed under the Clean Air Act 1991 — a piece of legislation that is being updated.

In its latest minutes, dated July 26, the EA said it is drafting a letter to Walter Roban, whose ministry said last month that the $230,000 programme had been pulled in face of budgetary cuts.

Davida Morris, chairwoman of the Environmental Authority (File phtograph)

The EA said: “Government is no longer funding monitoring of the ambient air. The chair [Davida Morris] confirmed that she will draft a letter to the minister asking for this to be reconsidered.”

Concerns have been lodged by the EA since April when the programme, funded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and conducted by the third-party organisation Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, was slashed at a time the Government is pledging to introduce tougher clean-air legislation.

The EA said at the time: “The authority expressed concern that the Ministry of Home Affairs budget has been cut and that the department is no longer able to fund the Bios monitoring of Bermuda's ambient air quality in Prospect, East Broadway, St George's and the oversight of Belco monitoring at Ocean Lane. The authority requested a letter of concern be sent to the Minister of Home Affairs. The chair agreed to provide a draft.“

At the latest meeting, another member of the EA team agreed to assist Ms Morris in drafting the letter.

The Clean Air Regulations 1993 and Clean Air Act 1991 are being considered in the Clean Air Act Amendment Bill.

Bios states on its website: “Continuous monitoring allows detailed analysis of pollutant concentrations and their potential sources, which aids government officials in regulatory decision-making.”

Belco also operates air-monitoring units including one near the plant at Ocean Lane, Pembroke that has detected high levels of sulphur dioxide.

Belco and DENR are working to secure a new location for this unit as the owner of the land it was on requested that it be moved by the end of June. In May, the EA recognised the need to maintain air monitoring at the site.

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The EA said that Belco has proposed implementing abatement measures to address the downdrafting of exhaust emissions to the area including forecasting wind directions and using a different fuel when winds are from the southwest/south-southwest and above 15 knots.

The unit on Ocean Lane detected 55 exceedences of the UK/EU Air Quality Objective target level for 15-minute sulphur dioxide exposure in 2021, according to a DENR report. Exceedences have continued since including 13 in January 2022.

Bermuda’s regulations state that concentrations must not exceed 30 micrograms per cubic metre [µg/m³] of sulphur dioxide as an annual arithmetic mean, 150 µg/m³ as a 24-hour average and 450 µg/m³ as a one-hour average, with no inclusion of a 15-minute exceedence level.

According to the EA minutes, DENR is seeking an amendment to regulations to bring in the 15-minute sulphur dioxide objective of 266 µg/m³ into law. The UK Air Quality Objectives stipulate that this concentration should not be exceeded more than 35 times a year. The British objectives place a 350 µg/m³ limit on the one-hour mean and 125 µg/m³ limit on the 24-hour mean.

Members of the meeting discussed whether the proposed amendments to the Clean Air Regulations 1993 will require Belco to take “prompt action” to ensure compliance.

Exceedences of nitrogen dioxide have also been reported at Ocean Lane. Particulate matter and total particulate matter are also tested for as part of the programme. The Prospect unit detects air from Tynes Bay Waste to Energy Facility and Belco depending on prevailing winds. Vehicular traffic has been found to be the major source of emissions at East Broadway.

As well as these emissions, there have been numerous soot fallouts from Belco’s North Power Station since its commissioning in March 2020 as well as strong odours of fuel from fuel-handling facilities near St John's Road.

Current powers under the Clean Air Act 1991

Emission control orders:

Emission control orders can be issued by an inspector on contravention of the Act by way of emissions exceedences requiring control or elimination of the emission.

Stop orders:

The minister may serve a stop order on a person who has contravened the Act, regulations or rules, or failed to comply with a term or condition of a licence, or a plant is a source of air pollution that he considers to be an immediate danger to human life and/or property. A stop order may require a person on whom it is served to stop the contravention specified in the order.


A person committing an offence against the Act is liable to imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to $5,000 or both.

A person found guilty of contravening a stop order is liable to imprisonment of up to 12 months, a fine of up to $50,000 or both. They may be subject to daily fines of the same amount for continued non-compliance.

The body corporate may also be liable to proceedings and punishment where an individual committed an offence against the act, and was at the time of the offence a director, manager, secretary or other similar functionary and committed the offence in that capacity.

Mr Roban said in July that the Clean Air Act Amendment Bill will set new clean air limits, introduce new odour regulations for controlled plants licensed under the Clean Air Act, and introduce “modern” enforcement measures and penalties.

He said the highest number of complaints about Belco pollution related to soot from the North Power Station, said to be caused by operating engines at low capacity, bringing engines online after a period of being offline and water and nutshell washing to remove soot in the pipes and flues — the ducts within the stacks.

The EA said one solution to this problem is the use of a “cleaner, more refined fuel” which would result in a “significant” increase to the cost of electricity.

It’s been estimated that a change to lower-sulphur diesel oil will increase the retail cost of electricity by about $0.02 per kilowatt hour and changing from 2 per cent heavy fuel oil to a 1 per cent fuel oil would halve the concentrations of sulphur dioxide detected at the location.

Also in the minutes, it was highlighted that the use of scrubbers to reduce emissions was impractical but that it might be possible to extend the flues to prevent downdrafting of emissions.

The Ministry of Home Affairs did not respond to questions by press time.

The Royal Gazette has requested air-quality reports from DENR.

Belco mitigation measures

Belco remedial and mitigation measures as reported by the firm’s Occupational Health, Safety and Environment team in March 2022 (square brackets contain The Royal Gazette’s own reporting):

Belco’s remediation measures:

In January, 2022, Belco completed the installation of shims and piston crowns on the four North Power Station engines in an attempt to reduce emissions. Filters were also installed on the fuel and lube tanks on St John’s Road in December 2021 to reduce ground-level odours. [Data from three Belco surveys showed a slight (-30 per cent at best) reduction in volatile organic compounds since the installation of carbon filters at the fuel tanks on St John’s Road. The Environmental Authority said in April that continued complaints suggested more could be done. As of June, 2022, Belco was still waiting for a reply from the manufacturer of the filters as to whether or not they are performing to specifications.]

The cost of these remediation measures was $2.7 million.

Belco mitigation measures:

Managing soot emission: roof painting; vehicle restoration; power washing properties. Associated costs of roof painting and car restoration rose from $216,594 in 2019 to $605,889 in 2020. Costs came back down to $271,689 in 2021.

Managing odour: measuring and monitoring, switching between fuels, reviewing fuel options.

Air-quality testing [a requirement under the terms of Belco’s operating licence]: charts on Belco’s OHSE webpage show results from one unit on Cemetery Road. They report a reduction in nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide after the North Power Station came online. [Results for the Ocean Lane unit are not included on the page.]

Managing water quality: installation of 31 water-filtration systems. Tank testing — to date all water has met the safe drinking water standards set by Britain, the United States and the World Health Organisation [for combustion-related pollutants].

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Published September 26, 2022 at 9:46 am (Updated September 26, 2022 at 11:47 am)

Watchdog calls for restoration of air-monitoring equipment

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