A Cane Grove rice mill, which has been at the centre of a dust pollution row for years, was yesterday given a one-month ultimatum by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to remedy the problem or face being closed down.
Dust from the mill has divided the Cane Grove/Strathavon community for years despite efforts by former President Bharrat Jagdeo and more recently by President Donald Ramotar.
Following reports yesterday that the factory would be shut down by the EPA, Cane Grove, Mahaica residents converged at the Faizul Hack Rice Mill to voice support for the business.
The factory had featured prominently in the press in recent years, following concerns by residents living in close proximity to the facility about dust pollution. The company was yesterday given a one-month timeframe, within which the relevant pollution issues are to be remedied. Similar warnings have been issued before by the EPA, which had been working with the company to resolve the problem.
A company official, who declined to be named, told Stabroek News that the mill was informed by the EPA in writing yesterday of the one-month ultimatum within which the company should remedy all problems which were affecting residents.
“They sent us a letter saying if we don’t put measures in place to fix everything… they will close us down by April 30,” she noted. She said rice farmers along the East Coast of Demerara and from as far Black Bush Polder turned up around midday expressing concern over the future of the facility, since it is the only source of income for many.
When this newspaper arrived at Cane Grove shortly after 1 pm yesterday, hundreds of residents of the community and other rice farming areas along the East Coast had gathered at the factory as the EPA team assembled at the location. Police were soon called in to assist in controlling the crowd, which entered the rice mill as the EPA team met the management of the mill.
Residents said they had been affected by dust pollution associated with the factory in the past. Cane Grove resident Lilowtie Punu told Stabroek News that she was one of the residents who had raised concerns about the dust emanating from the rice mill. She said that the residents formed a group and had approached the courts on the matter but she noted that over a period the company took steps to remedy the problem and it was not as severe.
“It ease and we think that the company try to make sure that it ain’t affect we the people of Cane Grove,” Punu noted. She said that the government is also aware that the company is taking steps to remedy the problem and she noted that if the factory is closed, many will be left without a source of income.
Another resident, Chaitram Ramdowar, told Stabroek News that he had been selling paddy to the factory. “This factory here for years and only now the people realise is a problem,” he said.
He added that the factory is known for its prompt payment plan and according to him, many rice farmers along the East Coast and the Mahaicony area have been transacting business with the company since its reputation is good. “This place help a lot of people and everybody know that when they come here they get their payment on time,” Ramdowar stated.
He said too that the company has been assisting rice farmers with fuel and fertiliser, which he noted is a “big plus for many communities from Hope right up to Abary Creek.”
The company official, who spoke with Stabroek News, stated that the company employs some 65 persons, while an additional 25 individuals are seasonally employed with the mill. She said too that the EPA had visited the company’s operations before and the company had taken several steps to remedy the problem of dust escaping into the nearby housing area.
She said that all the dryers at the factory were enclosed, while several sprinklers were placed at critical areas around the factory.
The dust pollution has also become politically charged as Cane Grove is seen as a PPP/C stronghold. However, residents who had complained about the pollution had enlisted the help of the Alliance For Change (AFC) in May last year after complaining that the PPP/C had not done anything about their problems. The Cane Grove residents protested in May last year outside of the Ministry of Health. They had said then that they had sought help previously from the late Minister of Agriculture Satyadeow Sawh, science advisor Navin Chandarpal, Jagdeo and Ramotar to no avail.
In July last year, Jagdeo had appointed teams to assess the operation of the mill and the dust problem. It is unclear what emanated from this effort.
In January this year, a high-level delegation was dispatched by President Ramotar to assess the situation. Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall, Minister of Health Dr Bheri Ramsaran and Minister within the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development Norman Whittaker met the residents. According to a release from the Government Information Agency (GINA) on January 2, 2012, the team was delegated by President Ramotar after he received complaints from the residents about dust pollution.
While Cane Grove residents focused on the emissions from the mill during the ministerial visit, the Strathavon residents shared concerns about the disposal of paddy husks by the miller. Hack was accused of illegally disposing of and burning paddy waste on nearby land in proximity to persons’ homes, GINA said.
The residents had stated then that the mill is viewed with much importance, since it acts as a source of revenue for a number of persons from both villages and also serve farmers of both communities who utilize the facility to mill their paddy. However, they maintained that the emissions pose serious health risks to them and their families, including several babies.
In 2008, when Stabroek News had visited the community to hear complaints from residents about the problem it was shown a letter dated June 28, 2007 from the EPA warning that the mill desist immediately from dumping and burning paddy chaff. However, this was still being done up to January this year.