JIS News

Managing Director of the Water Resources Authority (WRA), Basil Fernandez has said that bauxite and alumina companies have made great strides in reducing contamination of water resources in mining and refining areas.
He pointed out that when bauxite and alumina plants were established in the 1950s, there was limited information on the water resources of Jamaica, but observed that over time, significant data has been collected.
“In the initial stages the bauxite and alumina companies did not place a great deal of emphasis on the environment. However, each company now has an environmental group within it,” he told JIS News in an interview.
“We have established monitoring committees with all the bauxite/alumina companies,” he said, adding that their performance and environmental management systems are assessed during quarterly meetings of these committees.
Mr. Fernandez said the Authority has been working with the bauxite/alumina industry and great strides have been made with them, because they have invested significantly in alternate disposal systems, and “we have seen big improvements in water quality”.
He explained that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) required that there be on-going monitoring of the environment in bauxite areas. As such, the WRA and the JBI continuously assessed the water quality in bauxite communities.
Head of the Environmental Unit at the JBI, Worrell Lyew-You pointed out that protecting the water resource in communities was inextricably linked to the method of waste disposal employed by companies.
He told JIS News that the process of extracting alumina from bauxite involved the use of caustic soda, which might lead to the contamination of a community’s water supply if the waste matter was not properly stored. As such, the red mud residue from the extraction process is pumped into containment areas known as mud lakes.
In recent times, he added, other methods of waste disposal have been adopted, including the dry stacking system, which “reduces the potential for contamination”. In dry stacking, the mud is pumped out onto beds in thin layers and left to dry before the next layer is added. The liquid effluent is recycled into the process and reduces the contamination potential.
The thick-mud stacking system is similar to dry stacking, in that the mud is deposited in layers. However, the mud is not allowed to get as dry. All companies, he added, return caustic soda run-off to the plants’ processing operations, which helped to reduce the cost of production.
“There are no plants out there that release caustic soda to the environment purposely or deliberately,” he said.
Mr. Lyew-You explained that if there was any accidental contamination, it would be detected by the companies’ early warning systems before it reached the public water supply.