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Roban: one in seven homes fails ‘secondary standards’ for water quality

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Energy company Belco (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

One in seven homes tested for the impact of Belco pollution was found to have water taste and clarity levels that breach international standards, it has emerged.

Walter Roban, the home affairs minister, revealed the figure as he said that the environmental impact of emissions from the power plant remained “unacceptable”.

Mr Roban told MPs that an independent survey of 35 properties found that levels of aluminium and iron exceeded British secondary standards in five of them. Mr Roban said the standards applied to “aesthetic qualities of water including clarity and taste”.

The minister said that the iron found probably originated from Belco’s North Power Station.

Scott Pearman, the One Bermuda Alliance shadow home affairs minister, expressed concern about potential health issues.

People living near Belco have repeatedly raised concerns about the power plant’s impact on water quality and complained about fallouts, among other emissions, which have led to black deposits landing on their roofs and property.

Mr Roban said he could appreciate that people thought the Government and the Regulatory Authority were “passing the buck” on the issue, but insisted that was not the reality.

Clearing the air

The minister said: “Belco continues to select Bios [Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences] for the independent water quality of residential water tanks, which is conditioned in their operating licence.

“Data from 35 properties analysed to date have shown compliance with the primary UK drinking water standards and the World Health Organisation guidelines for fuel combustion-related contaminants.

“Secondary standards for aluminium and iron have been exceeded in five properties to date, with the iron probably originating from the metal exhaust flues of the Belco North Power Station when combined with the soot emissions.

“Secondary standards are set to address the aesthetic qualities of water including clarity and taste.”

Mr Roban said his department continued to receive many complaints regarding concerns about residential drinking water and soot emissions from Belco.

The minister said: “Coinciding with the commissioning of the new Belco North Power Station engines in February 2020, the pollution control section has continued to receive many complaints from the public related to air-quality issues from soot emissions to down drafting of exhaust fumes, in addition to concern these impacts may cause to the residential water tank.

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

“The pollution control section has sought advice from independent experts, regulators in the UK and technical publications to best inform the Environmental Authority which has resulted in annual revisions to the conditions of Belco’s operating licence and numerous letters to Belco seeking further information and action.”

Mr Roban said the Department for Environment and Natural Resources was working with the Bermuda Weather Service Centre to identify periods when the appropriate metrological conditions for down drafting may occur.

The minister expressed concern regarding soot levels.

He said: “With the completion of the modifications of the dual-fuel North Power Station engines, it is apparent that the unacceptable soot emissions continue.

“In the coming year, the pollution control will oversee an independent contractor to provide oversight of the Belco monitoring stations, in addition to air-quality monitoring and other key sites.”

Mr Roban said: “All of the testing is public. We are not concealing any results.”

He added: “I can perhaps appreciate that people feel … that the Government, the RA and others are passing the buck, but that is so far from the truth.

“I can assure you that the Environmental Authority is fulfilling every role that it has to do.

“And certainly the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, they are fulfilling their role on this under the Clean Air Act.

“The reality is that it is a very difficult situation over there in Pembroke — what’s happening.”

Mr Pearman said: “Minister Roban told Parliament that excessive materials have been detected at five residences. This is clearly concerning.

”The minister also drew a link between detected excessive materials and the Belco stack.

“There are also potential health issues above and beyond environmental concerns.

“The OBA invited the Minister of Works to consider supplying piped water to the homes of the immediate neighbours.

“This is not a complete solution, but concerns over water for drinking and bathing might then be addressed.

“What Bermudians need are solutions. Finger pointing is no answer. We are sure Belco’s neighbours don’t care who solves the problems. They just want them solved — and soon.

“This is not merely a problem for Belco’s neighbours.”

Mr Pearman added: “In addition, during the home affairs Budget debate, the OBA queried whether the Environmental Authority had sufficient government funding to address the environmental issues.”

Belco has been asked to comment on the matter by The Royal Gazette.

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Published March 13, 2023 at 8:17 am (Updated March 13, 2023 at 8:17 am)

Roban: one in seven homes fails ‘secondary standards’ for water quality

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