By Isanella Patoir
More city residents are speaking out against plans to build a chemical warehouse facility at the John Fernandes Ltd. Inland Terminal at 4055 Industrial site, Ruimveldt, Georgetown as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gets ready to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Residents from communities such as Houston Gardens, Roxanne Burnham Gardens, Rasville, Shirley Field-Ridley Square and D’Aguiar Park on Saturday hosted a press conference to highlight their concerns.
One of the major concerns is from Ramesh Dookhoo – the current Secretary of the Private Sector Commission and resident of one of the surrounding communities.
In expressing his disappointment in the way the EPA is handling the situation, Dookhoo told the news conference that he has a serious economic and business concern with the construction of the chemical plant which noted stands to affect five food and beverage plants at D’Aguair Park and Bank DIH Ltd.
“They have five wells in the vicinity of D’Agauir Park and Thirst Park, the whole company depends on water for its business, this matter will be reported to our overseas franchise holders and experts are on their way to Guyana to decide how we will handle this matter,” Dookhoo said.
Residents said they will not give up the fight until the EPA rejects the proposal.
“We are standing our ground; we do not want it! I ain’t able talk long, we ain’t want it.
“In Guyana here everything you have to fight for to get some kind of resolution, and we don’t want it and that is final!” Juliet Julian, a representative of residents from Roxanne Burnham Gardens, Georgetown, told the media.
A cattle farmer from Rasville, Emmanuelle Beveney suggested that the plant be built in a secluded area.
The protest began after a notice by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was published in the local newspapers on July 03, 2019.
The News Room first reported the notice stated that a chemical company Nalco Champion Guyana submitted an application for authorization for the operation of the warehousing facility.
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.
Candida Williams, a representative of Houston Gardens residents, said the EPA should reject the plans because it is not only going to affect the environment but also their health.
“We have a number of issues with a chemical facility in an area where you have residents and that is what we are trying to bring to the fore,” Williams said.
Houston Gardens is located to the western side of the proposed site.
Williams said that the facility will be housing a number of the chemicals which also poses risk to the environment and the people.
“Should anything happen if there is a leak or there is escape of the chemical in the atmosphere, we have an issue and we have recognized that Nalco does not have a proper emergency plan, all they have is a plan for their employees,” Williams stressed.
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.
Another resident from Houston Gardens, Charles Ceres, said the chemical plant and its proposed activities will not only affect the residents who are protesting.
“Directly if there is a chemical release in Georgetown and there is a vapour cloud, it affects all of Georgetown,” Ceres said.
The residents also stressed that health officials and the fire service do not have the capability to handle a chemical spill in the city.
Ceres said while John Fernandes Ltd has signed a compensation agreement with Nalco, they cannot compensate if lives are lost.
“It is not just about money, it is about quality of life and I don’t think you can place value on my quality of life,” Ceres said.
Ceres said the residents in the past wrote three letters to the EPA on environmental issues which resulted from the development of the Houston area for the oil and gas industry.
He said they are yet to receive a response.
“We wrote the EPA since 2018 June, asking them to look at the entire complexities of what was occurring here in this area, we haven’t received a response yet,” Ceres said.
Ceres said the letters were all copied to the Central Housing and Planning Authority and the Mayor and City Council’s Engineering Department since the area was developed for mainly residential purposes.
Another resident, Kathy Shuffer Ten-Pow, said zoning is the main issue because the chemical plant can affect over 15000 persons in the city in the event of a spill.
Kent Phillips, another resident of Houston Gardens said that he bought a plot of land in 2010 and was told that it would have been only used for residential purposes.
“On my transport, it was stated that is it going to be an upscale housing development here in Houston Gardens and all you see West of us would have just be houses,” Phillips said.
Phillips said after a couple of years, residents observed containers going up after they were told that the land was bought by John Fernandes Ltd to build houses for their staff.
The residents are asking that the EPA be proactive and respond to their concerns and for the sectoral environmental assessment be conducted.
A sectoral environmental assessment identifies expected negative environmental impacts from a project and recommends measures to mitigate them.
When contacted on July 11 by the News Room, John Fernandes Limited in a written comment it is merely interested in playing its role in the facilitation of the Oil & Gas industry and has no interest in negatively affecting the quality of life of surrounding residents.
John Fernandes Ltd. said it is satisfied that the decision rests in the capable hands of the regulatory bodies and it will trust their decision on whether the project should be done.