June 29, 2012

I have taken note of a statement issued by Dr. Horace Chang, Opposition Spokesman on Housing, Water, Environment and Climate Change. Dr Chang’s statement is misleading, mischievous, unfounded and has no basis in truth.  Immediately after the Government became aware of the incident, the Government put into gear, its emergency response over a matter that is the subject of intensive investigations by its regulatory agencies, led by ODPEM, and for which technical updates have been constantly communicated to the media and the public. 

On Thursday June 28 at approximately 11:00 a.m. the government regulatory agencies and the police began receiving calls reporting a pollution incident and intense odour nuisance in the vicinity of the Toll Plaza.  It was also reported that ten workers from the Toll Plaza were taken in for medical attention. In that regard Dr. Marion Bullock DuCasse who is an important member of the response team has reported her initial findings in the media. Since the matter was suspected to involve noxious gases and posed potential health risks, the government agencies agreed that the management and coordination of all interventions should be managed by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).  

The Government takes its responsibility for public health and safety seriously and has been monitoring the operations of the investigations by the agencies with deep concern. Although The Most Hon. Prime Minister, Mrs Portia Simpson-Miller and I have been briefed by the Director General of ODPEM on the  activities,  no definitive source, or the type of noxious gases causing the discomfort and distress to the population in the affected areas has yet been determined, therefore no conclusion could be arrived at.  ODPEM has been mandated by the Government to issue constant updates to the media in keeping with its role as national coordinator for disaster management.  Indeed, ODPEM has issued many such updates and the other relevant agencies also continue to do so. 

The fact is that the arms of the government have been tirelessly investigating this unfortunate occurrence.  

The Government Immediately responded to the incident at the Toll Plaza through the efforts of the designated First Responders: the Fire Services and the JDF Coast Guard and the Police 

  • The Government engaged the expertise of staff of Petrojam to undertake specialized air quality evaluations at the Toll Plaza and at different locations along the Highway 

  • The response teams continue to monitor the Kingston Harbour, Fort Augusta, the Port Henderson Beach and the Portmore Toll Plaza along with Petrojam, by boat, and also checked the air quality for hydrocarbons. None has been detected. 

  • The National Environment & Planning Agency completed investigation of some facilities with underground pipeline conduits, as well as underground and above ground storage tanks.  The Agency is continuing to investigate other major handlers and holders of petroleum products to determine pollution incidents and/or leakages of petroleum products into the environment. No breach has been found up to the time of this statement. 

  • The teams have visited and scoured the port facilities and surrounding areas on the seaward side to identify any possible pollution incident. 

  • Samples of soil and water have been taken for laboratory analyses. 

  • My Ministry has engaged the support of the Member of Parliament for South St. Catherine, to support the reconnaissance activities of the teams while the search continues for possible sources of the contamination by actively visiting and inspecting sites. 

Contrary to Dr. Chang’s allegation about “secrecy and or ignorance”, the Government has been open and transparent in dealing with the public on this very serious matter.  Unfortunately, despite our best efforts up to now, neither the source nor the pollutant has been identified.  Nonetheless the government will continue to keep the Country up to date.  I am therefore imploring the public to listen out for further advisories.

Hon. Robert Pickersgill M.P.
Contact:  (876) 997-9742
               (876) 381-3715

National Environment & Planning Agency
10 and 11 Caledonia Avenue
Kingston 5
Tel: 754-7540
Fax: 754-7595/6