By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
JOSEPH Darville, Grand Bahama Human Rights Association Vice President, yesterday called for the immediate relocation of residents affected by the underground gas leak at the Robinson Road Rubis service station.
Mr Darville said the incident was reminiscent of the environmental challenges faced by residents of Pinder’s Point, Lewis Yard and Hawksbill communities in Grand Bahama who have been plagued with industrial pollution for more than three decades.
Thirteen students from a single graduating class of the Grand Bahama Catholic High School, which was relocated from the area, have died from cancer, according to Mr Darville, a former principal of the school.
He criticised the government for its handling of the Marathon issue and called for all politicians – including the area’s representative Jerome Fitzgerald – to break their silence.
“I am particularly outraged by the lack of action by the government,” Mr Darville said.
“According to the information that has come to light, senior officials have known for some time that highly toxic materials were being leaked into the ground water that supplies the houses of scores of residents, yet they have done nothing to ensure their safety.”
Mr Darville said: “The GBHRA calls on the government to immediately take action to remedy the situation. This means removing affected residents from their homes (and) testing them all for any possible associated medical problems. . .”
More than seven months have passed since a comprehensive statement was promised by the government on the estimated 30,000 gallon underground gas leak from the service station. Residents claim they have received no information from the government about remediation plans for the area, or the results of initial tests conducted to determine their level of exposure.
Residents with test wells drilled on their property have also confirmed that no health assessments have been conducted to date. Mr Darville spoke of the challenges he faced in Grand Bahama over environmental pollution.
“As principal of Grand Bahama Catholic High School from 1977-1997 I fought – and continue to fight – a similar outrage in Grand Bahama,” he said.
“For the better part of four decades, the residents of the Pinder’s Point, Lewis Yard and Hawksbill communities have been plagued with pollution from nearby industrial plants. There have been ongoing oil spills and chemical emissions from time to time, which led to many health issues and a number of deaths.
“There is a high incidence of cancer and birth deformities in the area, as well as respiratory problems, skin, eye and nasal irritation.”
Pollution from the nearby industrial plants has been a major issue in the Pinder’s Point/Lewis Yard area.
Residents are said to have been plagued with many health-related problems, particularly in the Pinder’s Point, Lewis Yard, Seco Town and the Hawksbill communities that are in close proximity to the Freeport Industrial Park.
Mr Darville said: “Particularly shameful was the affect on the schools in the area, including mine.
“For years I would turn up to campus hours early, to open the doors and windows in an attempt to ventilate the classrooms which were filled with foul chemical odours.
“I led demonstrations against the companies responsible, but for the better part of a decade, the powers that be – both the central government and the Grand Bahama Port Authority – ignored or even denounced our efforts.”
Mr Darville recalled that while the government schools, Lewis Yard, Hawksbill High and Hawksbill Primary, did not join in the protest due to fear of retribution – all institutions gave moral support.
“It took a tragic incident, in which five ambulances had to be called to transport some 30 students, seriously ailing, from Hawksbill Primary, to begin turning the tide,” he said.
“Eventually, both the Grand Bahama Catholic High School (GBCHS) and the government’s Hawksbill Senior and Junior Schools were relocated.”
Mr Darville said: “Unfortunately, it was too late for many. After years of breathing in toxic fumes, and perhaps consuming contaminated water, many students and teachers became seriously ill.”
In July, a $500,000 contract was signed by the government for a study to be conducted by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Last week, Minister for Grand Bahama Dr Michael Darville again raised concerns over the prevalence of cancer in Grand Bahama and unanswered questions of the environmental effects of the industrial sector.
According to Ed Pavey, an executive of the Cancer Society of Grand Bahama, the island per capita has the highest cancer rating in the Caribbean.