A solution to a ten-year-old dust pollution problem involving the Faizul Hakh Rice Mill was presented to residents of Cane Grove, Mahaica on Thursday when the Ministry of Agriculture hosted a community meeting there.
Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Dr Indarjit Ramdass put forward what he said was a long-term solution, noting that a short-term solution which was put forward in 2001 and implemented had not served to remove the pollution from the community.
Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud subsequently suggested that the EPA recommendation be implemented in three weeks and that before the commencement of operations ten persons from the community would go with him and inspect the work. Three weeks after that and after recommencement of operations, he said, another inspection will be carried out. The minister said that if upon inspection the recommendation posed by the EPA proved not to be working, then both the EPA and the Guyana Rice Development Board will move to have operations once again shut down and further measures taken.
Meanwhile, owner of the mill Feyaadul Hakh was given a respite, when, in the course of the meeting, it emerged that he had not been granted permission to build the structures at the mill. This was raised by one resident, and when the minister asked Hakh the question he responded in the negative. Hakh was then admonished by the minister that he should have sought permission before commencing work, and he was then urged to seek getting the paperwork done as soon as possible. It was revealed that the company has already submitted an application for environmental authorisation (operation permit).
According to Ramdass, the EPA proposal involves the proprietor of the mill covering all the points of escape through which the dust is emitted. He would be required to enclose the components of the dryers, bins, elevators, and conveyor belt structures that make up the mill.
The initial recommendation sent from the EPA via letter to Hakh in 2001 was for the installation of a duct vent in the form of a steel/plastic net of sieve size opening less than 0.25 mm to serve as a filter system at the vents/openings of the storage bin/silos to aid as a dust reduction mechanism. The second step to be taken was to continue the use of the sprinkler system, which was put in place to reduce the amount of dust flying around, while the final stage was to install a suitable method to collect and channel waste/washed water from the sprinkler system to avoid water collection on the ground. These were the short-term prevention plan.
The recommendations made on Thursday included the alternative for Hakh to relocate rice milling operation to a suitable area that will not have severe environmental impacts on the surrounding community.
Given the chance to respond to the recommendations, some residents approved of the covering proposed, while others did not. One resident recommended enclosing the mill in its entirety, as this he said will prevent any dust from escaping and all will instead fall within the compound.
Ramdass said it was a good suggestion but it would be very costly.
Hakh in his turn stated that it could not be done as steel structures will have to be planted from the ground up. However, he said that the company plans on enclosing the elevators and conveyors at the beginning of the coming crop.
Hakh also later revealed that some operations have already commenced in rectifying the problem, as recommended by the EPA. He said that to date a dust containment system is currently being installed on one of the two silos, while another will be installed on the second silo by August 31.
Meanwhile, using the construction of the Berbice River Bridge, the new highway on the Essequibo Coast, among other projects that have caused conflicts and inconveniences as examples, Persaud said that in the process of development, there will be inconveniences, and ways must be sought in which we can continue to have economic progress while still reducing the side effects that come with it. “All of us in Guyana want investment, local or foreign… I don’t think there’s anyone who would want to stop investment because it stops economic growth,” he said.
All at the gathering then agreed that they did not want the mill to have to be moved or operations shut down, as this will affect not only the rice industry but also the livelihood of residents in Cane Grove.
A ministry official told this newspaper that the residents surrounding the mill, which is supposed to have a buffer zone, are living there illegally. The official also revealed that earlier on there was a smaller mill in place of the now larger one, and thus a smaller problem, but with the construction of the current mill the problem increased.