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Belco emissions exceed UK limits

Belco (File photograph)

Levels of sulphur dioxide in an area close to Belco far exceeded annual limits set in Britain and the EU last year.

The area on Ocean Lane, which has not been monitored for air quality since June, is vulnerable to down drafting of the chemical compound from the plant’s stacks.

The UK/EU Air Quality Objective sets the maximum number of exceedences over a 15-minute period at 35 per year whereas this unit detected 63 exceedences.

The information was reported by the Environmental Authority, the regulator of the energy plant’s emissions, in a recent meeting during which it also noted that there is no meter to analyse or quantify the levels of soot being emitted from Belco’s North Power Station. Residents in the area have long complained about their houses and property being covered in soot.

The EA also noted that it has received no update letters from Belco since June. The letters provide the numbers of complaints received, Belco’s air quality monitoring reports and reports of other operational challenges.

During a separate EA meeting, Belco questioned whether the monthly reporting was still necessary “in light of much information now not being available” including the air-monitoring unit at Ocean Lane.

The EA requested that Belco continue to submit reports.

The Clean Air Regulations 1993 and Clean Air Act 1991 are being updated in the Clean Air Act Amendment Bill to bring Bermuda’s regulations in line with Britain and the EU. Geoff Smith, environmental engineer at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said: “The Clean Air Act Amendment Bill will make these target levels into limit values under the Clean Air Regulations once the drafting and consultation process is completed.” This means that such exceedences would no longer be permitted under Bermuda law.

Dr Smith noted that Belco had introduced a new standard operating procedure to switch to a lower-sulphur, more refined diesel when the wind carries the chemicals in a certain direction at a certain speed.

The EA noted: “The data since this procedure was introduced appears to show a significant reduction in the number of exceedences.”

The Bermuda Clean Air Coalition, an activist group launched to try to address and raise awareness of pollution issues related to Belco, said the levels of exceedences was “disgraceful” and added that the report may only reflect part of the problem.

A spokesman said: “The 63 exceedences last year came from just one air-monitoring station and that station has since been shut down. Why hasn't the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources put out health warnings?

“We don’t know what the pollution levels are like when the wind blows from different directions around Belco as the toxic fallout isn’t recorded by sensors. There are so few air-monitoring stations in Bermuda that it is impossible to know what is really happening with Belco’s pollution. The few monitors that do exist are often paid for by Belco and we have no confidence in their data collection.

“We need more independent air-monitoring stations located in a 365-degree arc around Belco’s perimeter and not just in one.”

Asked whether the group felt confident that Belco could meet exceedence limits by the time the legislation is passed, the spokesman added: “We have no faith that Belco will meet any new targets … Belco executives and upper management should be bound to the new legislation and if they don’t comply they should face criminal and civil charges. That’s the only way to drive effective change.”

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, said in July that the Clean Air Act Amendment Bill will introduce “modern” enforcement measures and penalties.

The spokesman for BCAC, which is made up of business owners, residents and other stakeholders affected by Belco’s emissions and fallouts, said it should be consulted on the new legislation.

He said: “BCAC wants a seat at the table as a stakeholder and wishes to be properly consulted by the Government. To date BCAC hasn't been formally invited to take part. BCAC believes that the entire legislative drafting process should be transparent for all of Bermuda to witness.”

Speaking of the soot emissions, Mark Pacheco, the director of Belco’s occupational health, safety and environment team, said during the EA meeting that the company is working with manufacturers to investigate ways to reduce soot emissions including increasing combustion pressure within the plant’s cylinders and sourcing software programmes to limit fuel injection during start-up of the engines.

He added that the company is reviewing the installation of “improved soot collection/particulate elimination technologies“.

It was also noted that Davida Morris, the chairwoman of the EA, has yet to write a letter to Mr Roban calling for him to reconsider the Government’s decision to defund its own air-monitoring programme.

Concerns have been lodged by the EA since April when the programme was defunded to save the ministry of DENR $230,000.

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Published November 01, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated November 01, 2022 at 8:00 am)

Belco emissions exceed UK limits

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