What is Curaçao? It is a beautiful island in the Dutch Caribbean and, as a country with approximately 150.000 inhabitants and a status aparte, it is part of the Dutch Kingdom. Amongst others, Curaçao is well-known for its coral reefs and the sea life pursuant thereto: biodiversity is huge. Unfortunately, there is also a dark side to it. According to Erin Pulster (University of South Florida), Curaçao ranks in the top 10 of environmental pollution due to the emissions of the hundred years old oil-refinery: the Isla. Till 1985, the Isla was owned and exploited by the Royal Dutch Shell Company, now it is owned by Curaçao and leased by the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA. A very mild environmental nuisance license was granted to PDVSA in 1997, which nevertheless has never been enforced by the local authorities. The pollution emitted by the Isla refinery is a crime in its own right and a violation of human rights. Authorities lack interest whatsoever, the Curaçao government as well as the Dutch government prefer to look away. That’s why, the research findings of Pulster are shocking for the people living leeward the Isla.
In 2015 Pulster obtained her PhD with her thesis Assessment of Public Health Risks Associated with Petrochemical Emissions Surrounding an Oil Refinery. Until a few days ago, this thesis was held under embargo, but now it has open access to all of us. Pulster her research concerns with the widely known pollutants sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM) and polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAHs). With respect to SO2 on Curacao (the communities Beth Chaim and Kas Chikitu), she states (pp. 60-61):
Conversely, global trends for SO2 have illustrated decreases. For instance, a 50% decrease in annual average SO2 concentrations was reported in the Yangtze Delta region of eastern China (2005-2010) and in Europe (2001-2010). …The annual SO2 concentrations measured at both the Beth Chaim and Kas Chikitu station for the years 2010-2014 are among the highest reported globally (Figure 4.3). The 2014 concentrations measured at Beth Chaim were more than 200 times greater than those measured in Nuraminis, Italy (0.72 μg/m3) in 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu). In addition, the 2013 annual SO2 concentrations (155.9 μg/m3) at the Beth Haim station were over 5 times higher than the 2013 US annual average (29.4 μg/m3).
With respect to PAHs, which are known for causing cancer, she concludes (p. 79):
The mean concentration of PAHs from the 2014 sites located downwind (248.1 ng/m3) of Isla Refineriá were among some of the highest reported ambient PAHs globally, and were almost 200 times higher than those reported in some areas of Europe and Spain.
Finally, she recommends (pp.153-156):
Furthermore, both the 24-hour and annual mean concentrations of PM10 and SO2 measured in Curaçao were within the ranges often associated with cardiovascular and respiratory effects and mortality as a result of short-term exposures……
As previously mentioned, 60% of 3230 children (ages 0-14) in Curaçao had asthma which is more than four times the global average for children. As such, a more complete human health risk assessment is recommended to include dermal, inhalation and dietary exposure pathways. In addition, a more rigorous epidemiological study involving clinical assessments are needed to evaluate health effects and disease associations with air quality parameters.
What remains is waiting for a day of governmental action introduced by Prime-Minister Whiteman of Curacao and Prime Minister Mark Rutte (the Netherlands). They are both familiar with this terrible situation for many years, but until now they have tried to swept the Isla under the carpet.