WILLEMSTAD — Yesterday, the Environmental Department released the list with substances, the so-called Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of the catalyst powder that had drifted down on Julianadorp on June 2nd. The list mentions five ingredients that are carcinogenic or possibly carcinogenic. The powder also contains the toxic vanadium, a substance with a high irritation level.
With this list mentioning harmful substances, the residents of Julianadorp, united in Action Committee Basta!, received the requested clarity. The Dutch Chamber member Ineke van Gent (GroenLinks) had also urged publication of the substances in the catalyst powder.
It was only last Monday that Premier Gerrit Schotte (MFK) informed the action committee and Kenneth Valpoort, who acted on behalf of Wishi/Marchena that the powder had not contained any harmful substances, based on the Isla-report he received just before the meeting.
The day after the incident of June 2nd, a co-worker from the Isla said the powder did not contain vanadium, which remark Institute Schoon Mileu On Curaçao (Smoc) immediately queried in public. Smoc referred to a similar incident in 2004 (this was the fifth powder incident since 2004) when it appeared that the powder contained poisonous and even carcinogenic substances, although at the time, ‘the Isla said the powder was not harmful’. Most of the residents had cleaned up the powder themselves. The Action Committee Basta!, founded after the incident, is concerned about the Material Safety Data Sheet. “The list mentions substances that are carcinogenic describing them as ‘harmful’ and that one is to wear gloves when handling the powder.”
The action committee indicates that during the meeting last Thursday with Premier Schotte, the Environmental Department promised to forward a compilation of the research report into the catalyst powder from the Isla-refinery. During this meeting, the Environmental Department and the Premier said the powder was not harmful for our health. “As yet, this compilation only offers a production description of the powder in question. The description contains alarming information. It is obvious that it regards used and not fresh powder as alleged earlier. Used powder is polluted but with what? The substance used during the process, involves pollution. No information is given on this, while the Isla is well aware which process was in operation at that moment,” says Basta!
The action committee emailed the residents of Julianadorp and other habitants near the refinery today. “The powder contains harmful substances. We already knew this. We don’t know how much powder one is to inhale before one can speak of damage to the health because the government does not wish to answer our questions. Our aim now is to inform as many residents as possible and to expand the action committee with residents from other districts.”
On receiving the MSDS, Basta! consulted with Smoc yesterday. After the powder incident of June 2nd, the institute requested the Environmental Department and the Ministry of Public Health, Environment and Nature several times to produce this specified list containing product information. Basta!: “Smoc indicated earlier that the product contained the harmful substance vanadium, but this was contradicted. However, the sheet mentions this substance.” The list containing the production information of the used powder is from the Isla and dates from 2001. “Apparently, one had known the type of powder all along and the Environmental Department should have given instructions to the people immediately. As the department failed to do so, adults and children had become ill and the unprofessional cleaning actions had led to soil pollution. The Environmental Department did not conduct any investigation; they trusted the information from the Isla.”
Basta! believes the Isla should report such incidents to the Environmental Department within one hour and refers to article 12 of the permit, where one is to indicate the substances, the quantity of powder leaked and the consequences for the public health. “This had not happened because the Isla hadn’t known of the leak. It is outrageous how residents are kept in suspense by the government. Several times, Basta! and Smoc requested clarification, but to no avail. In the presence of the Premier, the Environmental Department indicated the substance was comparable with normal dust.”
The action committee believes there are ‘few countries in the world where the communication to the community on public health, is neglected and avoided more than on Curaçao’. “It is not only unethical but it also injures the community’s trust in the government and their institutions. People are not protected and not informed truthfully on the dangers for the public health,” says Basta!
The action committee states that meanwhile, ‘the first steps have been taken in presenting the proposal to the Premier regarding help to patients in Wishi/Marchena’. “People in the districts are ill due to the pollution from the refinery. Some cannot afford to buy medicines because these are not covered by the insurance and there are no financial means. In the meeting last Thursday, Mr. Schotte promised to help these people. We have meanwhile made the invitations and list of questions. First, we will organize a meeting to make a list of these patients in the district,” says Basta!
Shortly after the incident, Smoc pointed out the use of the additive DeSOx (catalyst powder), subsequently referring to the final verdict in Civil Higher Court of January 12th last year. “DeSOx is used to reduce the sulphur level of the products from the cat-cracker and to reduce the emission of sulphurdioxide. DeSOx is actually a mixture of substances. These substances contain heavy metals and one of these substances is often vanadium pent oxide,” says Smoc.