‘Complicated’ Bill to modernise clean air rules still being drafted
The Royal Gazette today continues its reporting from scores of documents released under Pati relating to emissions from Belco
A “technical and complicated” Bill to update air quality legislation must undergo an in-depth review to meet public needs, a government spokesman said.
The island’s Clean Air Regulations date back to 1993 and used concentration limits based on international data on known health effects available at that time, home affairs minister Walter Roban said last November.
Geoff Smith, an environmental engineer with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in April 2022 told an e-mail group – for updates about tackling soot and odour problems related to Belco – that a proposed amendment Bill was “approved to start the consultative process”.
A home affairs ministry spokesman said last week that the legislation was “still in the process of being drafted”.
He added: “This technical and complicated Bill will require an in-depth review to meet the public's needs.
“The Minister of Home Affairs has committed to publishing a consultative draft for feedback and will inform the public when it is approved for release.”
The spokesman said earlier: “For a full consultation on one of the new regulations under the Act, ie, odour nuisance regulations, further training of personnel from DENR and the Department of Health to become certified odour assessors will be required following the initial training course attended online in 2022.”
Officers from DENR used olfaction – the act of smelling – in an area of Pembroke vulnerable to down drafting from Belco engine stacks when they determined a site for a mobile monitoring station to keep tabs on emissions.
It was reported last year that in 2021 exceedances of sulphur dioxide levels detected by a device on Ocean Lane well surpassed annual objectives set in the UK.
The website for Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed that UK national air quality objectives established a target for sulphur dioxide of 266 micrograms per cubic metre measured as a 15-minute mean, with the level not to be exceeded more than 35 times a year, although the goal is not a statutory limit.
In 2021, the Ocean Lane unit detected 63 exceedances.
The monitoring device was removed in June 2022 and a new location has yet to be secured.
Wayne Caines, the president of Belco, told The Royal Gazette: “Belco is not required to comply with the UK Air Quality Objectives but has met all standards for both the UK Air Quality Objectives and the Bermuda Ambient Air Quality Standards in 2022 and 2023.”
Copies of e-mails from Dr Smith were released to the Gazette in response to a public access to information request.
He told residents in April last year: “ … we can report that the proposed Clean Air Act Amendment Bill for Bermuda has been approved to start the consultative process leading to drafting instructions to be approved and written into law.
“These amendments propose to align the air quality ‘limit values’ in the Bermuda Clean Air Regulations 1993 statute with both the ‘limit values’ and ‘target values’ of the UK/EU air quality statutes and objectives, respectively.”
The home affairs ministry spokesman told the Gazette: “Note that when Bermuda amends its statutory Clean Air Regulations 1993 to align with the EU/UK Air Quality Objectives, it will effectively have more stringent air quality standards, ie, limit values, than the UK – not equivalent.”
Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, said after last November’s Throne Speech that offensive odours were not adequately covered under existing clean air legislation.
He added: “The department frequently responds to odour complaints by the public caused by licensed facilities, such as spray paint booths, the Belco electrical generators, sewage treatment plants, large fuel storage areas, Southside crematorium, Marsh Folly compost facility and, although rarely, Tynes Bay Waste to Energy Facility.
“Amendments to the Clean Air Act will update and introduce new measures to address air quality standards that align with the UK and EU, based on the latest health and safety data on the exposure of air contaminants to humans.
“They will also introduce measures to minimise as much as practicable the impact that nuisance odours have on the general public, especially those in residential areas.”
The Pati response also included a letter from the Environmental Authority to Belco, dated March 4, 2021, when the EA noted that the power company responded positively to address monitoring, reporting and diagnostic requirements set in May 2020.
Davida Morris, the EA’s chairwoman, wrote: “These requirements were made by the EA as a result of the now verified complaints made by the public due to exposure to engine exhaust emissions and, more recently, engine soot emissions.”
She added: “It is noted that air quality measured at the two fixed and one portable monitoring stations located around Belco are currently compliant to the Bermuda Clean Air Regulations 1993.
“However, these regulations are in the process of being amended to align with the latest health and safety data that is reflected in the air quality regulations of other overseas jurisdictions, such as the UK.
“DENR has always compared the air quality monitored in Bermuda to such overseas regulations, and, until very recently … has not encountered such exceedances.”
The letter said that the EA wished to “remain fully informed” of options being considered at the time to address poor air quality.
Ms Morris told the Gazette in February that a requirement for monthly reporting from Belco continued and “the last update was received for December 2022”.
Mr Caines said that since the retirement of older engines in November 2021, Belco "has seen improved ambient air quality data“.
He added that the company had no air quality complaints from the Ocean Lane area since June 2022.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs said separately that the last odour complaint from down drafting in the area "occurred on January 19, 2023, some six months since the previous complaint on July 23, 2022“.
The spokesman also said that after a fuel-switching strategy – used when conditions are likely to cause down drafting – “the measurable number exceeding the UK Air Quality Objective for 15-minute SO2 dropped”.
Wayne Caines, the Belco president, said: “Property owners and residents who have been impacted by Belco operations should visit the Belco website or reach out directly to the OHSE team via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Any questions or concerns will be addressed as a priority.”
Mr Caines told the Gazette: “Belco is ISO 14001 certified, which means that it meets the highest international standard for its environmental management system.
“The company also complies with the Clean Air Act 1991 and the Clean Air Regulations 1993, including requirements pertaining to ambient air quality standards which requires regular reporting for pollutants across different averaging periods.
“Belco has a dedicated Occupational Health, Safety and Environment team that ensures that the company is compliant with various reporting requirements and that operations fall within the regulated standards concerning emissions.
“Reports are submitted to DENR and are available to the public.”
He added: “Belco is committed to continuing dialogue and engagement with the community as we continue to build a clean, safe and renewable energy future for Bermuda.”
• See tomorrow’s edition of The Royal Gazette to read about consultation that took place between the island’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs related to air quality management options.
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