Is pollution monitored in Cayman?

| 06/12/2018

Do we have any pollution monitoring here on the island? Ocean water quality, air quality, anything? Are there any statistics, on any topic? On the WHO website it seemed we are the only country that is not proactive in regards to these matters.

Ask Auntie, CNS Local Life, Caymanian statusAuntie’s answer: This is one of those questions that necessitated input from several different entities but not every type of pollution is monitored. I’ll start with the air.

It seems that there is no government department that is tasked with measuring the quality of the air we breathe. Based on what I was told, there is for starters an issue with having the resources necessary to enable ongoing testing. There have been times, though, when overseas consultants have come in to measure outdoor air quality in specific areas as part of larger impact assessment studies. But that seems to be it.

An official with the Department of Environmental Health (DEH)  also pointed out that the Public Health Law (2002 Revision), doesn’t specifically address air quality, though in case you are interested, it covers everything from sewage to garbage to offensive odours to assorted vermin.

The DEH representative added, however, “Consultations are now ongoing in an effort to update current legislation to include more specific guidance on this matter.” With just the right amount of scepticism and a bit of wordplay thrown in for good measure, please allow me to advise you not to hold your breath while waiting for associated changes in the law.

For now, the DEH only monitors air of the indoor kind and data on that is available.

To contact the DEH call 949–6696 or go their website.

As for water quality, I looked at both groundwater and the sea around us. The Water Authority-Cayman (WAC)  is mandated under the law to protect Cayman’s groundwater and this is done through its Water Resources and Quality Control Department. A WAC official explained that this unit manages the Onsite Wastewater Management Programme (OWMP), which is a partnership between the authority as the regulator, homes and businesses which own wastewater treatment systems and service providers who offer and service onsite systems.

The OWMP provides oversight, inspections and a dedicated website to track data and services performed on treatment systems.

The authority also licences well drillers and implements specifications for effluent disposal wells that consider such factors as elevation and nearness to open bodies of water and freshwater lenses. Well drillers are required to submit monthly drilling logs to the WAC.

In addition, the authority licences excavations, the extraction of groundwater and discharge of effluent.

The official added, “The authority also has several groundwater monitoring programmes for the freshwater lenses in East End and Lower Valley to keep track of the condition of these lenses.”

And the authority participates in the Department of Environment’s (DoE) marine water quality monitoring programme in George Town harbour and the North Sound.

The official also noted that the Public Health Law is under review with the Water Authority among the public and private agencies looking at the law. “The issue of environmental monitoring has been discussed in this committee as some gaps currently exist in the legislation,” and recommendations will be aimed at closing those gaps.

To contact the Water Authority call 949-2837 or go to their website.

A DoE official elaborated on that water quality programme with DoE and DEH which began in the early 1990’s with monthly checks of the George Town harbour. There has also been “sporadic monitoring…at various sites as the need arose” which eventually expanded to various locations in the North Sound.

Specifically the water has been monitored for temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, chlorophyll, nitrates, phosphates, total suspended solids, chlorophyll, and faecal coliform and enterococci bacterium levels.

But we do not have to worry when it comes to the quality of the water surrounding us, the official said. “Fortunately, and in part due to the Cayman Islands geography, there are few land-based sources of pollution to the surrounding marine waters. Without rivers, upland agriculture and heavy industry, combined with a relatively small population, marine pollution remains a limited threat and subsequently the Cayman Islands surrounding ocean and coastal waters have been relatively pollution-free.”

But the official sounded a note of caution. First pointing out that Cayman has been proactive in limiting the impact of coastal and ocean water pollution with strictly enforced laws that prevent the discharge of any kind of pollutants to the surrounding waters, he added, “Although direct sewage disposal to the surrounding ocean is illegal, sewage treatment and septic tank deep well disposal to ground water remains the most significant cause for water quality concerns. The karst limestone geology of the islands mean groundwater, high in nutrients (phosphate and nitrates) can leach to surrounding marine waters through underground caverns and fissures which in turn fuels prolific algal growth on coral reefs and potentially introduces disease pathogens.”

Unfortunately, the DoE does not have the necessary resources to undertake the “massive amount of study” needed to quantify any leaching that might be taking place, though the official pointed to the Florida Keys switching to tertiary sewage treatment, without any septic tank groundwater discharge, when coral diseases there were found linked to human sewage treatment.

To contact the DoE call 949-8469 or go to its website.

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Category: Ask Auntie, Environmental Questions

Comments (5)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    DEH has ignored doing the right thing for decades, WAC won’t say or investigate groundwater around the dump or they might be forced to point the finger at DEH and even themselves.

    Well drillers are required to submit logs but do they actually go back and check depths and proper grouting of septic wells? The last of our natural fresh water lenses, North Side an East End are gradually being polluted as well drillers are poking septic wells right into the lens. Not enough staff or no money in the budget is the usual excuse. What a pathetic situation we have and the apathetic ring leaders carry on making excuses and turning a blind eye.

    CNS, just because these entities are nice and obliging when you ask them questions does not mean they are actually doing something about the problem.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Most of the pollution comes from the legislative building

  3. Anonymous says:

    beyond the comprehension of the average caymanian…..seeing as this flat island nation cannot even give you stats on sea level changes….

  4. Anonymous says:

    of course not…its all make believe if you read the compass editorials,,,zzzzzzzzzzzzz

  5. Anonymous says:

    “But we do not have to worry when it comes to the quality of the water surrounding us”??????????????????????
    “there are few land-based sources of pollution to the surrounding marine waters..”
    This official should be fired for incompetence and/or for providing misleading information. The Dump has poisoned North Sound. And if independent testing was conducted regularly in several locations, who knows what they would have discovered.
    As for air pollution, only newcomers and children are probably not aware of its extend, coming form the Dump, incinerators (including Health City), mosquito control and sewage treatment plant. Feel free to add other sources.
    It is crime agains residents and visitors not to have air and water pollution regulations and controls in place.