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Feb 27, 2004

O.W. battles black ash problem

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Air pollution: it’s not something Belizeans in general think about, but for some residents of the Orange Walk District, air pollution from the sugar industry is a constant concern. This week I visited some residents who fight a daily battle against a black, sooty nuisance that falls from the sky.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

The fly ash that comes from the burning of bagasse at the Belize Sugar Industries Limited boilers and chimneys, travels through the air for miles and settles on people’s houses, yards and clothes. It is especially prevalent in the surrounding communities of Tower Hill, Chan Pine Ridge, Palmar, and Carmelita.

Adolfo Reyes, Area Resident

“It affects our families in all ways, they got them cleaning up more often than they have to clean up, they wash their clothes and by midday when they hang out their clothes, it’s dirty, so they have to go back and do something to get it clean back again. And also, we have to clean our houses mostly locked up for the purpose of this bagasse that’s blowing all over.”

Loiry Casteneda, Area Resident

“When time we get up, the house is dirty with the ashes and we can’t hang clothes outside, white cloths because when you pick it up, it’s black.”

Jacqueline Woods

“Has it been affecting your family’s health?”

Loiry Casteneda

“Well normally she is getting sick with fresh colds with the ashes. I have to cover up the crib at nights so she does not breathe it.”

Antonette Young, Lab Technician/Area Resident

“They come to our clinic here up in Tower Hill, they come with respiratory problems, whether it’s asthma, emphysema, sinusitis, persistent coughs for the last three months. And it’s all related to the ashes that flies throughout the day and night.”

In 1998, citizens from the affected areas got together and petitioned for a safer, cleaner, and healthier environment.

Antonette Young

“It has been an ongoing problem, as I mentioned, and people have really voiced their opinion. They have written to B.S.I., they have tried communicating with the authorities in the Environmental Department to make a difference and no one has really made a difference, and it’s a health hazard.”

Another list of concerns include ash particles settling in the drinking water tanks, eating away the metal on the roofs. Banana and plantain leaves die and cannot be used for the making of tamales.

Adolfo Reyes, Area Resident

“Getting on your fruit trees, it also affects our zinc house, because it gets on the zinc and when it rains it shoves the bagasse under the zinc and that keeps moist, so gradually it starts to rot away the zinc. So we have to change our zinc about three times more than what we should.”

Adolfo Reyes, who operates a boat tour service by the Tower Hill Bridge, says the black ash has also made the river trip an uncomfortable journey for his customers.

Adolfo Reyes

“Well this ash keeps blowing and sometimes the tourists don’t know and they walk around and suddenly it gets into your eyes and you have a big problem. You get sore and we have to apply medicine. Sometimes we have to take them to the doctor.”

The “Because We Care Foundation”, a rehabilitation Centre situated in Tower Hill has been bagging the ashes collected from their site.

Antonette Young

“Like I said, I am not here to condemn anybody. I’m not here to condemn B.S.I. or anybody that’s… it’s just a cry, we’re crying out, what can you do to eliminate this problem.”

Antonette Young, whose laboratory and clinic is at the centre, is one of the people trying to get B.S.I. to clean up the mess.

Antonette Young

“We hope B.S.I. would listen to us and make a difference. I spoke to one of their representatives at a workshop that we had and he talked about the chimneys, that it’s very costly to replace them and these are chimneys that have been there I think ever since the company started. What we would like B.S.I. to do is to hear the people. I am here as a medical personnel, I am not here to condemn them or anything. We want people to work together in unity that we can protect our future.”

When we contacted B.S.I. Managing Director Jose Montalvo, he told News 5 that the residents’ concerns have not fallen on deaf ears. He says the company is very much aware of what has been taking place and will be implementing a programme called the Co-Generation Project that should significantly reduce the flying ash. However, that project is not scheduled to be in effect until 2006.

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