By Bibi Khatoon
Several residents of Georgetown are concerned about plans to build a chemical warehousing facility within close proximity to residential areas.
Dozens of residents of Houston Gardens, Shirley Field-Ridley Square, Roxanne Burnham Gardens, Guyhoc Park and Banks Park have formed a group to speak out against the construction of the facility.
According to a notice by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the local newspapers, published on July 03, 2019, chemical company Nalco Champion Guyana has submitted an application for authorization for the operation of the facility at the John Fernandes Ltd. Inland Terminal at 4055 Industrial site, Ruimveldt, Georgetown.
The facility will be engaged in the filtration, storage and warehousing of oilfield chemicals to supply the Floating Production Storage Offloading (FPSO) vessels, offshore Guyana.
The EPA said the proposed operation will see approximately 1,493,000 kilograms of specialty and commodity chemicals being imported and stored onsite.
According to the Project summary, some of the chemicals are Methanol, Xylene, Asphaltene Inhibitor, Corrosion Inhibitor and Emulsion Breaker which will have to be transferred to the supply boat.
Studies in animals show that exposure to xylene could result in changes in the liver and harmful effects on the kidneys, lungs, heart, and nervous system.
Exposure to methanol may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, mouth and throat. It can also lead to liver damage, cause headaches, cardiac depression, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, optic nerve damage, dizziness and a feeling of intoxication.
Amanda Sahai, a resident of Houston Gardens, said she has three children and cannot afford for them to become ill from toxic chemicals which can be released into the environment.
“We’re not against urban development but a chemical plant has no place in Georgetown as it will impact all of the surrounding communities,” she said.
“We do not want any chemical plant here,” Sahai added.
Kent Phillips, also of Houston Gardens, told the News Room that when he initially purchased his land in the area, he was told that the neighbouring property will be used for residential purposes as well.
However, his major concern is also a possible accident at the chemical facility which could lead to severe damages to properties and lives.
“The problem is with this chemical, the kind of chemical…if it goes off in the middle of the night, you can suffocate in your sleep…Iike other countries, [these facilities] are away from what people resides,” he noted.
While it is unclear whether the purpose of the land was changed to be used for commercial purposes, the residents said they were never consulted.
The News Room contacted John Fernandes Limited which said they are aware of the concerns raised.
In a written comment, the company said chemicals for the Oil and Gas industry are used in all oil producing nations.
“As far as we are aware, all proper steps are being taken by the relevant companies and regulatory bodies to determine the suitability of this activity on our premises,” John Fernandes Ltd. said.
The company said it is satisfied that the decision rests in the capable hands of the regulatory bodies and it will trust their decision.
John Fernandes said it is merely interested in playing its role in the facilitation of the Oil & Gas industry, which it is hoped will have a huge positive impact on Guyana and its citizens.
“Our company has no interest in negatively affecting the quality of life of our neighbours nor endangering the lives of anyone,” the statement noted.
The EPA said an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required before any decision is taken to approve or reject the proposal, since this development may have significant impacts on the environment.
The EPA has given residents 28 days to make written submissions to the Agency, setting out those questions and matters which they wish to be answered in the EIA.
In a letter to the EPA, residents of Houston Gardens/Plantation Houston Estates are calling for an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) instead, before approval is granted for the project.
In the letter addressed to Executive Director of the EPA, Dr. Vincent Adams, the residents outlined the influence of the facility on their public health and well-being, land and property values and other resources within these areas.
They alluded to the fact that two schools are located within close proximity to the project.
“The target population of all areas must be identified, in addition to costs associated with health care, loss of earnings and relocation costs in the event of a release to the environment,” the letter dated July 4 stated.
They raised concerns about having no evacuation plan and/or mechanism for warning residents of any releases to the environment that pose threats to both human health and the environment.
“We have identified as major impacts the risks to the health and well-being of our families, the detrimental impact on the quality of our community life and the depreciation in the values of our homes.
“This project must only advance if is demonstrated that the environmental benefits to the residents of Houston Gardens/Plantation Houston Estates and other impacted communities exceed such environmental costs,” the residents noted.
The project summary also includes the transfer of the chemicals from the wharf to the terminal and as such, the aggrieved residents want the route to also be considered in the EIA.
The Houston Gardens residents said they have written letters to the EPA in the past to address issues relating to the projects ongoing at Houston, which is affecting the environment, but have not received a response.