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Ministers refute concerns on PharmaChem chemicals

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Grand Bahama Minister Ginger Moxey. (File photo)

By FAY SIMMONS

Tribune Business Reporter

jsimmons@tribunemedia.net

CABINET ministers have refuted an Opposition MP’s concerns over the storage of hazardous chemicals and materials at the PharmaChem plant following its mid-January closure.

Ginger Moxey, minister for Grand Bahama, told the House of Assembly that site is secure and 20 former PharmaChem employees will be hired to complete the disposal of any hazardous materials.

She was responding to concerns raised by Iram Lewis MP for Central Grand Bahama, who said he was informed by now-former PharmaChem engineer that a skeleton crew would remain on-site to ensure that chemicals are dealt with accordingly.

However, he added that he understood only security guards were on the premises and that possible cancer-causing carcinogens were left unattended. Mr Lewis said: “When I got the call that PharmaChem is closing down, I made a phone call to one of the engineers, being a friend of mine, to offer support.

“I was advised that even though the doors will be closing that Friday, there’ll be a skeleton crew on the site because there was some hazardous materials on property that needed to be managed, that need to be secured and disposed in a professional manner. The chemicals were to remain at certain degrees to pre- vent them from becoming volatile and causing major issues.

“Finding out that PharmaChem is closed down. The site is closed down, the power is off, there’s no one on property save for security at the gate. There are piles of hazardous materials on the property, there is no air conditioning on the property and we were advised that this matter needs to be looked into as soon as possible,” Mr Lewis added.

“The materials, I am advised are carcinogens.

They are cancer-causing agents. So, colleagues, we need to look into this matter expeditiously.” Mrs Moxey said the plant is guarded round-the-clock by two security guards that patrol the premises regularly, and is periodically checked by two former senior employees.

She added that chemicals on-site are secured from leaking into ground water and that the plant was shut down using hurricane protocols.

Mrs Moxey said: “To the point raised by Central Grand Bahama on PharmaChem, the site is staffed 24/7 by two security guards per shift who patrol on the hour. All chemicals are secured in tanks, road tankers and aqueous waste basins. All chemical storage is bonded to contain any spills from going into the groundwater

“Two former senior personnel make periodic checks of the site. The site was shut down using their usual hurricane shutdown protocol and is secured.”

Mrs Moxey said a liquidator has been appointed to handle the PharmaChem winding-up, and its sole major customer, Gilead, will hire 20 former employees to dispose of any waste over a six to eight-week period.

She added: “The liquidator was appointed this week and will begin discussions with Gilead to rehire under contract about 20 employees to complete the disposal of hazardous waste and chemicals.

“The site is secured. It is hoped that by the end of next week, the staff will be on-site to manage removal of waste and other chemicals. This will take approximately six to eight weeks and they of course are in contact with the Ministry of Environment and also the environmental department of the Grand Bahama Port Authority.”

Vaughn Miller, minister for the environment and natural resources, said the chemicals will be a part of the liquidation process and, while the description given by Mr Lewis was “not the case”, investigations will be undertaken to ensure the chemicals are contained.

He said: “The Department of Environmental Planning and Protection are aware of it. We are in communication with them. We are aware the chemicals are on the property and the chemicals are to be liquidated. That’s in the process, but we will certainly follow up to make certain that everything is on schedule and going as planned to make certain that what happened or what used to happen... in Grand Bahama in terms of chemicals being out of control and may be cancer causing, that that is certainly not the case.

“But as far as we are aware, we are fully aware of what is happening and the description that you gave that is not the case. But we will certainly investigate it to make certain that every- thing is contained and is in control.”

PharmaChem Technologies was shut down after it encountered “technical and operational issues” with its $400m plant expansion, which one contact labelled as “a very ambitious project”.

The expansion, designed to expand the range of drugs supplied to Gilead, was said to have gone significantly over-budget due to cost overruns. And both Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the construction completion and production of test batches.

“In the chemical world, they have to do test batches, and each batch has to meet specific criteria before they can do a production run,” one contact, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. It is understood there were quality issues with these test batches, while some PharmaChem staff were said to be reluctant to work the 24-hour production shift system that was required to meet Gilead’s orders.

Ultimately, with the Grand Bahama-based manufacturer unable to meet Gilead’s desired production timelines and volumes, the latter pulled its financial support from PharmaChem, resulting in its closure announcement and the termination of some 120 staff.

Comments

ExposedU2C 4 months, 2 weeks ago

This was inevitable.....and the word is getting out to international investors all around the world that it's virtually impossible to profitably conduct any kind of legitimate business in the Bahamas.

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