The Public Health Department is coordinating with local and international multi-sectoral agencies, to address concerns at the post- Hurricane Ivan temporary hurricane debris storage and processing site, Block 55 Parcel 57, in Frank Sound.
As part of this effort, team members from the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) office in Jamaica, as well as the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Science (ICENS) - UWI Jamaica, are currently on Island. They are expected to return in coming weeks to continue environmental testing and collect additional samples.
Explaining that regional partners have access to additional resources unavailable in the Cayman Islands, Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Samuel Williams, said the Public Health Department has sought guidance on the matter from PAHO/WHO and ICENS. Under the directions of these agencies, Dr Williams says, local authorities began collecting biological and environmental samples for further overseas analysis.
Participating Government agencies include: Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Health, Water Authority, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Environmental Health.
This multi-sectoral effort follows a report from the Water Authority noting elevated levels of arsenic in a number of soil samples, and arsenic presence in a domestic well that exceeded the World Health Organization (WHO) drinking water guidelines. The well however is not in use.
Dr Williams notes: “For some time land space which was used for holding debris, post Hurricane Ivan, in 2004, has been the focus of ongoing investigations by the Water Authority and the Department of Environmental Health. This included conducting a series of environmental tests on the groundwater and soil to measure levels of various metals and possible contaminants such as arsenic, among others”.
While preliminary laboratory investigations are ongoing, public health officials are operating at a heightened state of awareness and vigilance.
Dr. Williams emphasized that arsenic is a natural component of the earth’s crust and is widely distributed throughout the environment in the air, water and land. It is also toxic in its organic form. The Public Health Department will continue to closely collaborate with overseas partners to determine if any public health response may be warranted.
Meanwhile Premier, and Minister of Health, Hon. Alden McLaughlin has expressed his confidence in the teams’ efforts, led by the Water Authority, Public Health and Environmental Health departments to ensure that proper and adequate procedures are carried out noting, “All protocols in conducting an investigation of this nature are being observed. We are thankful to our international partners PAHO and ICENS for their assistance. The health and safety of our population is paramount“.
For further information contact Dr. Williams at the Public Health Department on 244-2621.