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Health ministry passes Belco nuisance investigation to DENR

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Clearing the Air, an investigation by The Royal Gazette into Belco emissions, was launched at the end of last year (File image)

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, has passed the investigation into Belco pollution on to the environment department.

The minister has also not revealed whether she has ruled the soot and emissions from the power plant as a statutory nuisance — as only she can do.

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, has passed an investigation by her ministry into Belco emissions on to the environment department. The minister has the power to rule the emissions a statutory nuisance in order to have them abated (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health told The Royal Gazette: “The Government has determined that the ongoing investigation into this matter is now with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in accordance with the Clean Air Act 1991. The DENR will provide an update in due course.”

The emissions have been plaguing the lives of residents with soot and iron deposits on their properties, including on roofs and in water tanks, and there have been high levels of harmful chemicals in the air — at least since the commissioning of the North Power Station in April 2020.

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 1949.

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

The spokeswoman added: “The Public Health Act 1949 does not provide for fines up to $50,000 to be imposed on the utility. Such fines are available pursuant to the Clean Air Act 1991 and regulations made under that Act.”

After questions from this newspaper in February, the ministry launched an investigation into the matter.

While the complaints have been made to Belco and the Government since about mid-2020 after the commissioning of the NPS, Ms Wilson said the investigation was “in response to recent reports from neighbourhood residents’ concerns regarding emissions from Belco”.

Asked for an update on its progress this week, the ministry said the investigation had gone to the DENR. The health ministry failed to answer questions surrounding what work had been done so far as part of the investigation.

We have asked the Bermuda Clean Air Coalition, a pressure group made up of affected residents and stakeholders, whether the ministry had been in contact to provide evidence to assist in any investigation. The questions have been resent and we are awaiting a response.

A spokeswoman for the health ministry said: “The Government of Bermuda gave careful consideration to which legislation would best address this matter.

“There have been extensive internal discussions and consultation with the Attorney General’s Chambers. As previously stated, it was determined that the Clean Air Act is the best legislation to pursue this.”

Statutory nuisances under the Public Health Act 1949

• Any accumulation or deposit that is prejudicial to the health of, or is offensive to, any person in the neighbourhood

• Dust, smoke or effluvia caused by any trade, business, manufacture or process and which is prejudicial to the health of, or is offensive to, the inhabitants of the neighbourhood

Mark Pettingill, director of Chancery Legal, has been representing BCAC and individual residents who are considering launching a class action against Belco.

They also challenged Ms Wilson to determine whether to use her legal powers, threatening to apply for a judicial review if she failed to carry out her duties.

The ministry said that the group and its legal representative had been informed of the investigation shifting to the DENR.

• This story has been updated to include a comment from the ministry of health.

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Published April 15, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated April 15, 2023 at 4:03 pm)

Health ministry passes Belco nuisance investigation to DENR

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