22 March 2009

The Enduring Curse of Bauxite

John Maxwell

Almost everything you thought you knew about bauxite is a lie, beginning with the Authorised Version of how the Industry began. 'Although deposits of aluminous red earth have been known to occur in the Tertiary Limestone areas (which covers two thirds of the land surface of Jamaica) since the 1820's, it was not until the 1940's that their economic significance as an ore of aluminum was recognised."
That's not as bad as the garbage disseminated in various quarters, including schools, which attributes the 'discovery' to one of Jamaica's merchant barons in the 1940s.
According to that story the merchant, who owned land in St. Ann, noticed that his crops were not doing well on red earth and sent some away to be analysed. And presto! a bauxite industry.

The very first Government Geologist, J.G.Sawkins, had mapped some of the major deposits and discussed their possible importance in his official Notes of 1867. And Aluminium Ltd of London had had its agents mapping and getting options on land in Jamaica since 1936.

The discovery of mineral wealth in the Third World has usually been the precursor to communal strife up to and including civil war (Nigerian oil, Congolese cobalt, uranium, oil, etc., etc.,) and social dissolution. Jamaica has been no different, only slightly less bloody.

Mining usually destroys the environment, fragments communities, intensifies inequality and enhances criminal activity. Bauxite has disfigured the landscape, opened land to illegal deforestation and increased soil erosion. The dust nuisance from mining and transportating bauxite is spread wide as are the asthma and other collateral medical conditions. The fallout is much greater and more severe in the neighbourhood of alumina refineries. The toxic effusions of these hellholes destroys the roofs of houses, furniture, livestock and most shameful of all, the lungs of childre Red mud polluted water contributes to hypertension, stroke and early death
But all this is just a start, a sample, of the enduring curse of bauxite, that magic mineral that only 50 years ago was going to be the engine of our development, was going to make us all rich and happy.


Suicide in the Garden Parish


I spent four years, from 8 to 12, at a school in Claremont, the centre of St Ann, the so-called Garden Parish of Jamaica. On Sundays we went for long walks past groves of cedar, bastard cedar, guango and mahogany, past ponds and their blue and white gaulins, past trees full of anis and doves and brilliant, yard-long green lizards It was a verdant gentle landscape, fertile and productive. The big landowners had their 'penns' – cattle ranches – but small farmers produced the sweetest oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, ortaniques and 'uglis' known to man, corn and yams and gungoo peas. There was peace, self-sufficiency and little idleness.
You get the picture.

I thought I remembered a green place called Inverness. Can't fnd it anymore. Can't really find Aboukir and much of Alexandria has vanished as well as most of the dales and greensward, the scrub and bird-rich 'ruinate of my youth.
Whole districts have been wiped out, whole villages have ceased to exist, replaced by huge holes in the ground – some 'restored' to grassland – if they happen to be alongside a public road and therefore open to scrutiny. But fly over St Ann and the mindless, chaotic destruction becomes clear. Huge craters remain, 'unrestored', raw, gaping wounds in the flesh of this once green garden. The people were not considered in this planning; only bauxite; but wait till you get to south Manchester. At Roxburgh, birthplace of Norman Manley – the destruction has a quality of fascist brutality and sadistic revenge about it. Only so-called 'civilised' human vultures could even contemplate ravaging the earth in this way.

A survey of teenagers in relation to AIDS/HIV, a few years ago, disclosed that in the parish of St Ann, Jamaica's most literate parish and probably most prosperous and peaceful parish in 1955, sixteen percent (16%) – nearly one in five male teenagers – had either attempted or seriously considered suicide.
Some of the people I left here in 1945 moved to Kingston, some to London and New York, leaving behind children and destroying extended families, communities and social capital. The villages changed, new kinds of bars, nightclubs and 'guesthouses' to service the newly rich millwrights and dump-truck drivers.
The Natural Resources Conservation Authority/National Environmental Planning Agency – NRCA/NEPA – say they have delegated their environmental protection and regulation responsibilities to the Jamaica Bauxite Institute. I find nothing in the law to allow this delegation, and I believe it is illegal and ultra vires. As Wendy Lee of the Northern Jamaica Conservation Association (NJCA) points out, it involves a severe and inherent conflict of interest.

And since the JBI some years ago seriously proposed to establish in Jamaica one of the world's most dangerous industrial plants, a facility to incinerate imported PCBs and dioxins, I doubt whether the JBI understands the meaning of ecology – or of environmental integrity.

The JBI's environmental competence must be further questioned when one of their principals was quoted in November 2006 as saying that the flora and fauna of the Cockpit Country could be 're-located".

At that time I asked:

"If Mr Parris Lyew Ayee believes that he can relocate the flora and fauna of the Cockpit Country I would ask him to give us an explanation of how he would deal with just one species - the beautiful Blue Swallowtail butterfly.

The Blue Swallowtail is a seriously endangered species. It is one of the world's largest butterflies and is the largest butterfly in the western hemisphere. [One] is big enough to cover most of the palm of a normal hand. "

I didn't get any answer then and I won't get any answer now, because Mr Lyew Ayee's proposal is unscientific and impossible.

Planning and Expropriation

The JBI and its sidekick the Commissioner of Mines – CMG , – claim the power to relieve landowners of their property rights by a simple declaration. This is the most dangerous and corrupt nonsense.

If Jamaica is, a nation of laws it is clear that people can lose their rights only by due process. The law, despite P.J.Patterson, Q.C., is a shackle.

Under the Mining Act and its Regulations, applicants for Prospecting Licences, Mining Leases and Special Mining Leases must provide the commissioner (CMG) with detailed information including surveys (mapping) conducted under strict conditions .

Section 24 of the Regulations requires the applicant for a lease to survey the area for which the lease is requested and requires the application to be advertised in the Gazette and in a Jamaican daily newspaper.

"Mining Regulations
"Sec 25.-(1) Upon receipt of an application for a mining lease the Commissioner shall cause a notice setting out the main particulars of such application to be published at the expense of the applicant once in the Gazette and once in a daily newspaper circulating in Jamaica and shall give notice of the particulars of such application to any person who to his knowledge has any interest in the area contained in such application.

(2) No mining lease shall be granted until at least three weeks have expired after the publication of the notice in the Gazette as required under paragraph (1).

No legal bauxite mining


    If the law means what it says it is not only possible but probable that there is not a single legitimate mining lease in existence in Jamaica.

In my view, both the `JBI and the `CMG are operating outside of and contrary to the law. If the CMG operates as he told the Access to Information he does there is no question tat the law is being flouted and has been flouted for several years. (see last week's column – Public Mischief and the Public Interest).

I believe on the basis of the facts above, that people affected by theJBI/CMG attempted expropriation have the right, the opportunity and the duty to shut down the mining industry in Jamaica by application to the high court.

We could do it tomorrow, and we probably should.

If the CMG/JBI were operating the Mining Act as they are required to, Jamaica would have earned millions more from bauxite than it actually did
The Act requires mining companies to compensate Jamaica for every hectare of land mined but not restored.
Currently there are at least 2,669 hectares on which the companies owe us US$ 66,725,000 in one time compensation,at the rate of $25,000 per hectare. In addition the companies owe the people of Jamaica an additional US 2,500 per hectare for every year the land is not rehabilitated. According to my calculations, which are probably an underestimate, the companies owe us another US $150 to 350 million. We are talking real money here, our money– between US$200 million and US$400 million.
When is the government going to collect this debt?
    In addition to all this the companies are liable under international law to reclaim and make harmless nearly 100 million tons of red mud – an enterprise that would solve our unemployment problems for a decade or two and pay pensions to the bauxite workers.. In addition we are entitled to seek damages for the reclamation of the aquifers poisoned by red mud, under the Polluter Pays principle, endorsed in 1992 by P. J. Patterson in Rio.

The Red Mud Scandal


Listen to what the USArmy Corps of Engineers says about bauxite mining in Jamaica:

"Bauxite mining is surface mining, which is land-intensive, noisy, and dusty.
'Jamaica can produce about three million tons of alumina per year. The refining process creates a thick fluid called "red mud" which has high levels of sodium and hydroxide ions, iron oxides, and organic substances.


'About one ton of red mud waste or residue will be produced from each ton of alumina. The land mass cannot accommodate this high volume of waste. This waste is often ponded into lakes, either man-made or karst depressions, with no consideration of the environmental effects.


'The effluent is free to seep into the subsurface, or to mix with precipitation, creating caustic ponds. The disposal of the wastes from alumina processing is a major environmental problem. Discoloration, turbidity, and high coliform bacteria counts, due to the high organic content." –Water Resources Assessment of Jamaica; February 2001. US Army Corps of Engineers.

A few years ago there was in Jamaica, a Czech scientist, Dr Jasmino Karanjac, who retired as professor of hydrogeology at UWI, Mona. While he was here he carried out several studies with the co-operation of the Water Resources Authority and its head, Mr Basil Fernandez, who like him is an authority on bauxite refinery contamination. In a paper prepared for a Conference 'Water Resources & Environmental Problems in Karst' in September 2006, Professor Karanjac said, inter alia, ""Today, it appears that Jamaica, which has the size of 10,991 sq km, may have problems developing enough good-quality water for its population of just over 2.7 million ... ground water in Jamaica is very vulnerable. There are no feasible sites for surface water storage and ground water remains the major source of water supply. Along the coast, aquifers are overabstracted and in the interior explorations and drilling are prohibitively expensive.

Professor Karanjac points out that under the UN definitions, Jamaica ranks as a water-stressed country and suggests that desalination/reverse osmosis plants will certainly be needed in the near future; before even considering red mud contamination. According to Basil Fernandez billions of cubic yards of underground water has been contaminated by bauxite waste.

With these factors in mind, it would seem totally insane for anyone to contemplate any activity which has the capacity of reducing Jamaica's water resources capacity. Any bauxite mining will certainly have that effect:
"Recent readings obtained from domestic water wells in the vicinity of Jamaican alumina refineries have indicated elevated sodium and PH readings. Also, the escape of caustic soda (which is used to extract alumina from raw bauxite) into the groundwater supply significantly increases sodium concentration of domestic well water mostly in the rural areas. Sodium is associated with a higher incidence of hypertension. As a result of its genetic composition, the Jamaican population is particularly subject to hypertension, which can be aggravated by high levels of sodium."

It is known that disturbing the Jamaican red earth liberates cobalt, arsenic and other toxic metals. The problem is that no one knows the extent of the damage.The JBI may know, but it won't tell its employers, the Jamaican people. And, bizarre as it may seem, in a situation as dangerous as this one, the JBI conducts studies into red mud infiltration of aquifers only once every five years .

The levels of cadmium in some Jamaican soils have been found by ICENS (International Centre for Environmental & Nuclear Studies, UWI, Jamaica) to be 40 times the world mean of 0.5 mg/kg). [In]The soils with the highest levels …About 40% of Cd is bioavailable and could enter the food cycle.
I could go on – but I do believe it is time for the ginnigogs to answer the charges against them.

As they say somewhere, you never miss the water till the well runs dry.
Copyright©2009John Maxwell

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