BY DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
INDUSTRIAL pollution in Grand Bahama was responsible for significant gastro-intestinal disorders, chronic eye disorders and acute skin disorders, according to an investigative study which was undertaken by the government 30 years ago but never publicly released.
The Tribune recently obtained this report on the effects of the industrial pollution around the combined industrial complex on Grand Bahama.
The results of the report indicated that these health conditions were associated with exposure to industrial pollutants. It advised that persons should protect their eyes in the affected areas.
The investigative study was headed by chief investigator Dr Farhat Mahmood, who at the time was acting medical officer of health with responsibility for community health services, including epidemiology, at the Ministry of Health.
Dr Norman Gay, the then health minister, was credited in the report as someone who had “a special interest in health promotion, including the environmental matters, and without his support the project would never have gotten off the ground.”
Among those also involved in the study were Dr Alfred Brathwaite and Dr Eric Brown, nurses and other hospital staff.
The affects of the industrial exposure on the eyes, ears, respiratory function, blood function, liver function, kidney function, skin function and the reproductive function were assessed by a cross-sectional method for four groups on Grand Bahama.
The groups were students, teachers, workers in the industries and a random selection of residents from the community.
The exposed cases were members of the groups that went to school, taught, worked or lived in the exposed area, within a five-mile radius around the industrial site for a minimum of five years.
No association was found between exposure to the pollution and disorders of either the respiratory system, blood function, or kidney function based on exams or lab results, however slight associations although none of them significant were indicated from reported past histories in either one or several of the four study groups.
The alleged disorders included hypertension, diseases of genitourinary tract, gastro-intestinal disorders, and to a lesser extent respiratory disorders and symptoms associated with coughs, colds, and fevers.
The report indicated that for disorders of the eye and skin observed through physical examinations, the results indicated several significant associations.
For the eyes, these included chronic conjunctivitis in the workers and community groups. The skin exams showed excess cases of acute eczema in the groups of the exposed workers, teachers, and those from the communities, and of ulcerative lesions in the exposed group from the community as well as from the sample of students.
According to the report, documented complaints were reported since the mid-1970s of the industries and their potential environmental pollutants. It was noted that over the past few years, the number of complaints had escalated.
It was noted there had been reports of foul smells and coats of oily substances settling on the schools located in the area, and that on many occasions the schools had to be dismissed and the students sent home as a result of reported cases of nausea and vomiting, headaches, sore throats, fainting and asthma attacks that were allegedly related to the emissions from the industries.
The report indicated that the emissions had resulted in the loss of learning hours for students with reduced teaching hours.
“The ministry undertook an epidemiological study to assist in identifying the need for control measures on health hazards in identifying priorities for training, research and legislation. The study was to also serve as a baseline for the evaluation of the effectiveness of any preventive health measures introduced,” the report said.
The study was the first of its kind on the industrial park area in Grand Bahama.
The unexposed group that participated in the study were those sampled from Freeport which is beyond the exposed area and who had never attended school, taught, worked or lived in the exposed area for any length of time, were considered the control or comparison group.
A total of 100 students from three schools in close proximity to the industrial plants: St Vincent de Paul, Lewis Yard, and Hawksbill Primary and a total of 88 from schools in Freeport – Mary Star, Sunland, and St Pauls - that were not in the exposed area, were examined.
It was indicated that based on past diagnoses reports by students, there appeared to be an excess number of cases in the exposed group when compared with control students for gastro-intestinal disorders, disorders of the eye, and symptoms related to coughs, colds, and the flu.
It was found that exposed students diagnosed with gastro-intestinal disorder was more than five times that of students attending schools in Freeport.
Data analysed on the eyes of the 188 students that participated in the study, showed 47 cases of acute conjunctivitis, three cases of chronic conjunctivitis and two cases of cornea opacity.
In terms of colds, cough and flu reported by students, the exposed students’ chances of having any symptoms was twice that of students outside the exposed area.
In conclusion, the analysis of the results revealed some associations between exposures to the combined emittants from the various industries did appear.
There were also associations between exposure and diseases of the genitourinary tract in the four exposed groups. There was also correlation between exposure and gastro intestinal disorders in workers and more strongly in the student sample.
The report also indicated that while some of the apparent association were extremely weak, “the fact that they occurred in more than one of the sample groups does warrant some attention.”
According to the report, other apparent associations were observed between exposure and respiratory disorders in teachers and between exposure and coughs, cold and fevers as well as eye abnormalities in the students.
The report stated that cases of cornea opacity, cataracts, and chronic conjunctivitis were far more prevalent in the exposed groups and indicated a much larger risk in that exposed group.
“This becomes even more important due to the fact that this relationship is seen in not one, but several of the study groups, namely workers, those from the community for chronic conjunctivitis, students and teachers and community for corneal opacities, and the community group for cases of cataract.”
In the report, it was advised that “in the interim the eyes should be protected as much as possible in areas known to have excessive pollution and recommended more frequent eye examinations to help determine the extent of the problem and the threat.”
Based on the study there was no increased risk to kidneys, liver functions or detection of disorder of haematological system to disease primarily affecting many other organs in which blood cell changes occur as secondary manifestations.
When The Tribune asked Minister for Grand Bahama Dr Darville about the report, he said that the document, along with other subsequent reports conducted by the government, was turned over to PAHO/WHO teams to assist them with their investigation into the health and environmental risk assessment of the industrial plants in nearby communities, which was conducted in 2014/2015.
The PAHO/WHO report indicated that there was no health and environmental risks to residents living in close proximity to the industrial plants.
The Pinder’s Point Lewis Yard Environmental Committee and resident of Pinder’s Point rejected the latest report and is calling for the relocation of residents from those communities.