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Ministry ‘actively investigating’ Belco emissions

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Clearing the Air, an investigation by The Royal Gazette (File image)
Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A cross-ministry investigation into Belco emissions said to have been launched close to three months ago is ongoing, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has confirmed.

The Ministry of Health said it had launched an investigation into soot and chemical emissions towards the end of February.

Then last month, it passed the investigation on to the environment department.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs, under which DENR falls, said this week: "The ministry continues the work to address the issue facing many residents, businesses and schools impacted by Belco's emissions.

“To that end, under Section 12(1)(v) of the Clean Air Act 1991, DENR is actively investigating the matter, as such, the ministry cannot comment further until the investigation is complete.”

The section of the Act refers to emission control orders that can be imposed under the Clean Air Act “if it appears to an inspector that there is in the air an air contaminant that is, or is likely to be, injurious to life or health, or to be detrimental to property”.

Residents have long complained about damage to property including soot deposits on their roofs that make their way into their water tanks, while high levels of sulphur dioxide have been detected by air monitoring units in the area of the plant.

While there has been no geographic study measuring the potential health effects of polluting sources in Bermuda, a number of residents have spoken out about health concerns they suspect are related to pollution from Belco. Vehicle emissions are another source of pollutants in Bermuda.

The Act adds: “The inspector may serve an emission control order on the person owning or operating any plant, structure or thing that the inspector considers to be the source of, or one of the sources of, that air contaminant.”

No direct mention was made by the spokesman about section 13 of the same Act, which refers to stop orders that can be imposed by the minister, currently Walter Roban, for non-compliance with orders made.

That section refers to cases where it appears to the minister that “a person has failed to comply with an order made, or a direction given, under this Act or a regulation or a rule” or that “a plant, structure or thing owned or operated by a person is a source of air pollution that the minister considers to be an immediate danger to human life or property or both”.

In the case that there is a conviction for non-compliance with a stop order that continues after the conviction, fines of $50,000 per day that the non-compliance continues can be imposed.

An emission control order can require the source to limit or control the rate of emission of the air contaminant and a stop order may require the source to stop the contravention specified in the order.

News of the Ministry of Health’s initial investigation emerged following questions by this newspaper into the minister’s responsibility to consider whether the emissions would be deemed a statutory nuisance under the Public Health Act 1949.

While complaints have been made by residents regarding excessive pollution associated with the energy firm to both Belco and the Government since at least mid-2020 after the station’s commissioning, Ms Wilson said the investigation was “in response to recent reports from neighbourhood residents’ concerns regarding emissions from Belco”.

In March, the DENR told The Royal Gazette that while Belco’s operating licence, issued by emissions regulator the Environmental Authority, speaks to soot and other emissions, a condition referring to “statutory nuisances” can be determined only by the Department of Health, under the Public Health Act.

The Public Health Act says the Minister of Health, if satisfied of the existence of a nuisance, may make an order requiring abatement.

However, the following month, the health ministry passed the investigation on to the environment department.

Ms Wilson did not reveal whether she had ruled the soot and emissions from the power plant as a statutory nuisance.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health told The Royal Gazette at the time: “The Government has determined that the ongoing investigation into this matter is now with the DENR in accordance with the Clean Air Act. The DENR will provide an update in due course.”

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Published May 23, 2023 at 7:56 am (Updated May 23, 2023 at 7:31 am)

Ministry ‘actively investigating’ Belco emissions

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