Action group calls for halt to incinerator and demands proper regulation for medical waste
Residents in St David’s have called on the Government to halt the development of a proposed medical waste facility in Southside and order an independent environmental impact assessment.
Terlena Murphy, a spokeswoman for the pressure group Concerned Citizens of St David’s, said that while containers of medical waste had been removed from Southside, the island still needs to address a lack of legislation over its regulation.
She said: “We are angry that it has been left to our community to point out these issues and the gaps in legislation governing toxic waste after members of the public discovered illegally parked containers of unrefrigerated biowaste on a public road.”
Ms Murphy said the group was concerned that the collection, storage and disposal of biological waste was outsourced “without any proper regulation” and that, while an environmental assessment is required for waste disposal systems, no such assessment was done for the proposed incinerator.
“This means that the cumulative impact of airborne toxins from various pollutants in the area is unknown,” she added.
“As a result, residents, businesses and children playing sport and people who frequently use the area for exercise may be exposed to dangerous toxins and pollutants, potentially causing a risk to their health.”
The group also complained about a lack of public consultation on the project and the lack of response to questions posed to Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, and Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs.
Ms Murphy said the group demands that an EIS be carried out on the site and for David Burt, the Premier, to insist that both the ministers and the CEO of the Bermuda Land Development Company meet the community to address their concerns.
The group further called for other sites to be considered, such as Tynes Bay or King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, and for Ms Wilson and Mr Roban to make it their “highest priority” to ensure that policies and legislation are in place to regulate the collection, transportation and disposal of biohazardous and pharmaceutical waste.
Ms Murphy said that while the containers of medical waste had been removed, she questioned if MediWaste would suffer any penalties for leaving them in a public space.
She said: “Is there any fine that is going to be applied to them? Probably not, but there should be and it should go to this community because they were unsecured and we don’t know what is going to happen in the future.”
Ms Murphy disagreed with the suggestion that the concerns could be boiled down to “not in my backyard” saying the issues go beyond that.
“We have a vested interest in this community, so yes, we have a concern and we want to be consulted,” she said. “It’s not just about ‘not in my backyard’.
“Is there a plan for the industrial site, or do they just plan to put things there? Yes, there is a community plan, but it did not include the MediWaste facility.
“The CEO of BLDC does not view the community plan and the industrial site as one and the same. It is the same. It is St David’s all together.”
The group also raised concerns that the MediWaste contract would result in an increased cost for medical providers.
Albert Fox, another member of the community group, said: “When you go to a dentist, they will pass that bill on to you.”
He also raised concerns about who would be held responsible should someone in the community face medical challenges because of the facility.
The MediWaste facility, set to be built on Waller’s Point Road in Southside, was approved by the Development Applications Board in September.
However, the project sparked a furore in St David’s, where residents said public notice of the proposal passed under the radar.
Residents were further angered by the discovery that unsecured containers of medical waste collected by the firm had been left near the proposed development site.
A series of town hall meetings have been held since in recent weeks, with another scheduled to be held at 6.30pm today at Clearwater Middle School.
About half-a-dozen residents staged a protest at the St David’s roundabout this morning, holding signs highlighting their objections to the proposal.
Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Social Development and Seniors and the area MP, backed the community’s call for an environmental assessment at a press conference this morning.
“I do not take human life lightly,” she said. “I think it is very important that it is not business as usual.”
She said MediWaste, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Home Affairs had a duty to the residents, but there was no policy or legislation in place to govern the handling of biohazardous waste.
“That is something we must continue to push for and ask for as a community,” Ms Furbert said. “I want the area residents to know that this does not sit well with me as an MP.”
She told the media that she had spoken to Ms Wilson and Mr Roban and was optimistic that the public’s concerns could be addressed.
“The Ministry of Home Affairs is working diligently. The constituents called for the containers to be removed and they were removed today,” Ms Furbert said.
“I have recently been made aware that the Ministry of Home Affairs is seriously considering an EIS. I support it.”
She said it was important for proper safeguards in place and that the public has the opportunity to scrutinise decisions that are made which impact them.
“It is shameful that the task of holding the authorities accountable for the storage of biohazardous waste has fallen on the shoulders of the people of St David’s and we applaud the tenacity of the Concerned Citizens in standing up for their community.
“It is our view that allowing a private contractor to transport and store biohazardous waste without adequate regulation or oversight by the Government is questionable at best and negligent at worst.
“We call for more in-depth community consultation in the planning process where there is a potential impact on the local environment and human health.
“While an online notice is appropriate for a living room extension, it is completely inadequate for the construction of an incinerator dealing with toxic materials.”
Lovitta Foggo, MP for St David’s and chairwoman of the Bermuda Land Development Company, said she was also concerned about the situation.
“We want the right processes and procedures to take place and give our members of the community the opportunity to weigh what comes out of the findings and have their voice to say yea or nay going forward,” she said.
She said that if MediWaste wanted to be community partners, then the responsible thing for them to do would have been for them to consult with the community.
Ms Foggo added that the Ministry of Home Affairs, as the regulators, also had a responsibility to ensure the public was aware.
She said: “The only way that you can have something like this approved is from the regulators. The regulators should have gone out to the community to ensure the community was aware of what may possibly be happening in their backyard.”
• The Government has been asked for a comment.