Dr. Ed Boles gave us an in depth conversation on the state of the New River and shared his views and hopes that our water bodies will receive more attention.
Department of Environment details steps to improve condition of the New River
The Department of the Environment (DOE) has been working to alleviate the polluted conditions of the New River in Orange Walk. Residents have been concerned for weeks over the murky appearance of the river and the awful stench it emits, along with the fishes and crocodiles that have died. Today, Chief Environmental Officer from the DOE, Martin Alegria, spoke to us about what the department is doing to resolve the issue.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer, Department of Environment: “We set up gear now, emergency gear such that during the course of this week we are looking at immediate actions that are needed. I think starting tomorrow if I’m not mistaken we will be cleaning up the dead fish and all those solids that are actually out there contributing to the stench, that is the immediate one. Secondly, we are trying to develop, this week too apart from that cleanup we are looking at satellite imagery, some reports we have had in the recent past about land use from the Lamanai Lagoon itself down to far past San Estevan area to see what contributing factors there are that are causing part of the problem. Over ten, fifteen years ago we started working on that New River situation not only with BSI but many other players that would be what we call point sources of pollution, BSI being the biggest but you also had at that time other contributing factors. We started working with them and with BSI but they are just a few of the many contributing factors and when I say a few we also have upstream of the bridge we have agricultural runoff and those have been occurring as long as BSI has been there too. There’s a silent contribution being done by these agricultural runoffs and those are what I was telling you through the GIS satellite imagery we are trying to see where these major sources are coming from. Agriculture is one but you also have activities of the town itself, I mean fifteen years ago let’s say we were about 20,000 people in Orange Walk town and surroundings now easily it’s around 30,000, 40,000 so the more population the more contribution.”
Another issue Belizeans up north have been worrying about is the ongoing drought. Alegria also told us how that has been affecting the river.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer, Department of Environment: In the past before this year’s incident or last month’s incident for years we have noticed that every time we have the first major rains, we call it the September rains, climate is so messed up now that the rains are unpredictable. But let’s say it was the first major rains of the season we used to have that stirring effect of that river bottom with all the runoffs and that contributed to this same eutrophication fish kill where the water becomes anoxic and the fish die. But this year has been very much more out there. There a few contributions and drought is one of them, the temperature rise because of the drought, lack of water and the high temperature just basically exacerbated that situation that now we are seeing for the past two or three months the effects that we have never seen before because of the climate that has changed a little. Yes I think Saturday we had a big rain that came down in Orange Walk and we have seen a big difference between Sunday and yesterday, and we have seen a nice brown, it’s not that yellow-green and so on now it’s brown but it is still a polluted environment. Before environmentalism that type of environmental consciousness and awareness that is recently 1970s and 1980s so between then and now we have been trying to do a lot to catch up and try to minimize what at the time nobody paid attention now it’s unacceptable.”
According to Alegria, restoring the river has to be a combined effort between the Department, the nearby industries, and the residents of Orange Walk.
La Inmaculada RC closed due to stench from New River
Love News has been able to confirm that in a meeting hosted by Ministry of Education representatives this afternoon the decision was made to cancel classes at La Inmaculada RC School, in Orange Walk Town. The school is located very near the New River and since early this morning, our studio has been receiving reports that the stench from the river was affecting students. That prompted the school’s administration to call on the Ministry of Education, which in turn, called in Public Health inspectors. In the meeting this afternoon, education reps confirmed that the pollution of the river is releasing some gas into the air and also confirmed that students have complained of headaches, nausea, and vomiting. Currently, officials are looking at other venues where students can be placed until a more thorough assessment is conducted. Late this evening, Love News spoke to director of Health Services, Dr Marvin Manzanero via phone.
Orange Walk Town Mayor addresses New River
For weeks, the New River which flows through the Orange Walk District has been the subject of intense concern. While there have been reports of pollution in past years, and even fish kills, residents say this is the worst it has ever been. Multiple fish, crocodile and even manatee kills have been reported recently, and despite the engagement of the Department of the Environment, general sentiment is that the problem is getting worse, and the DOE is being lax. Today, a foul stench hung over Orange Walk Town, so bad, we are told, that it has become a real concern for students of schools near the river. Our colleagues from CTV-3 spoke to Mayor Kevin Bernard this morning, and he told them that all the talking has gotten residents nowhere, and it is time for real action to save the river.
Reeking River Causes Problems At La Inmaculada School
School just started on Monday, but tomorrow, students at La Inmaculada Primary school in Orange Walk Town will be staying home, and that's because the stench from the polluted new river is making them sick.
The school is about one block from the river - and - since Monday - the foul odors coming off the polluted waterway have been inundating the school, forcing some kids to put on masks. The Principal - Lenny Umana - who's coping, but clearly exasperated - told CTV-3 today that they have few options:...
Lenny Umana, Principal, La Inmaculada "Up to today we have notice that the environment has not gotten better. It has gotten worse. Day 1 and 2 which was Monday and Tuesday was manageable, but today it is up the charts when it comes to the bad smell. I do believe though that the administration is following the right protocol as to how to get this situation remedied, because a solution to it I can't see it in the horizon any time soon. we have already approached our managements, the ministry of education and the ministry of health. So everybody is coming together to see how they can address the problem here at La Inmaculada School. I am glad that the ministry of health has taken a proactive step in coming in to analyze, see what we are facing first-hand so they can make a report to the ministry and that is all happening currently as we speak."
"Our students have been coping as well. They have been coping along with the teachers. We have had about 3-4 students that have gone home due to felling an upset stomach, feeling irritated. We also have been asking our administration to be alert, because we need to make these documentations, so that we can make a valid report. So far there are about 3-4 students have left. Some parents have refused to send their children to school. That again is their right as parents. We also have rules and regulations that govern us as teachers and how we are to proceed. We are on that as well. Some parents have also been giving children their little masks to put on to protect them, which is very good. They are being proactive. Unfortunately, a few children would remove it, they don't want it, but they don't see the hazards that comes with it. So, right now I Must congratulate the parents that have found that means of how can I help and we really appreciate it. The health department is coming in to assist us in maybe some solutions and giving us some recommendations how we can best cope with the situation that is currently at hand. I feel the ministry of education has become very involved to figure out how they can help a school like ours - 1,035 students is a displacement of huge numbers and just like we think about a child's health, we also value their education and this will bring an impact if this school locks down for indefinite, because I don't have an answer how long it will go. This is our school trying their best for the school community. Our school cannot fix the river, cannot change the situation, but we can look at measures that will benefit our children. So be patient, we are working to find any possible solution that can fix our current situation at school. Facebook is not the best place for our school to handle a situation that the school is facing. I have a thousand parents - find a a way to let me know and I am being sincere. Dont come and tell me to get the river fixed, or get my administration to do it. We cannot. We are in your same situation and my biggest concern if when my kids leave here if that is the end result and have to close down the school, what happens when they reach home and that smell is still there? That is my question and wherever I turn in Orange Walk, that smell is there."
Late news is that based on the assessments of public health inspectors - the Ministry of Health is recommending that classed be cancelled Thursday and Friday - and then the inspectors will go back on the ground on Monday and see what the situation is. In regards to health issues - the Director of Health Services told CTV-3 he doesn't see any long term effects - but this will have to be studied more.
But, we stress, the Ministry of Education could not confirm the position this evening. Unofficial reports from the community say that the students may have to be relocated to temporary facilities since the condition of the river is not expected to drastically improve anytime soon.
Chief Environment Officer Says River Not Improving Anytime Soon
And the DOE's Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria re-iterated that point today as well: it will take years to try and get rid of the pollutants in the river.
But Alegria says that they will do their part to address this urgent issue. Today he outlined the short term and long-term solutions the DOE has for restoring the rank, rotten New River.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer - DOE "Yesterday I think I mentioned that we had prioritized that issue to the extent that this week we are doing some desktop exercise, gathering funding to address the immediate issues. One of them is the cleaning up of those dead fish smelling that's causing the stench. That's the first action. That should begin today or so through private sector assistance, but we have the funds for that. Then we are doing hopefully by Friday desktop exercise using Google Earth and so on to see where the key areas point sources to look at and then approach them in order for them to be part of the solution and of course we have the long term component. The long term, meaning next year, 2 years, 5 years from now. We need to have an action plan related specifically to the New River with all players; agricultural sector, tourism sector, local government town board and government entities so that we all have a common program which we are planning to develop and then having a financial sustainability plan to implement so that what happened this year, does not repeat itself, because we might be prepared as such in terms of preventing the amount going into the river in the case of summer time when the temperature are the hottest."
"What we have seen this year has been occurring over the past 10-15 years. It's just that because of the heat, drought and the temperature of the water just exasperated it."
Reporter "Why wasn't anything done throughout all those years?"
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer - DOE "We have been doing over the past 10-15 years. We have been working with key entities. People like to target BSI, but that is one of the companies we have been working over 10 years to minimize the potential damage to the river in that section and so for the past 3 years we have an action plan for the next 5 years. So two and a half years have gone where they have reducing their outflow in terms of concentrations and so on. They have built ponds, treatment systems, they have address the water temperature from their boilers. What is there the results right now last month is pollution that has been there for 40-50 years. So what and how we address that pollution that is there for decades now, how we minimize the continuation of the inflow - it will take a lot of time and money to deal with what is out there the pollutant that is already in the system."
A long term strategy, but in the short term, the DOE is contemplating dredging the river. Figueroa did not want to discuss it today, but 7news has learned that government is considering a plan to start pumping contaminated water out of the river in an effort to get the water moving.
Briceno said he and Orange Walk South Representative Jose Mai met with Figueroa earlier this week to talk about the possibility of dredging:..
Hon. John Briceno - OW Central Area Rep. "Dr. Omar Figueroa, we met with him on Monday. Whilst he was getting his reports, he did not fully appreciate the crisis that is in front of us. Well the immediate plans they were talking about was one, start to clean out the river with all the dead fish but now since then, they're talking about the possibility of maybe dredging the river by San Estevan to see if we could dig a deeper channel so that then the water that's stagnant can start flowing out because we have to get out this water. That's one aspect that they're doing immediately. We're talking about Hon. Mai was talking about putting aerators, you know those aerators that you put in the shrimp ponds that would throw the water up so the water can get oxygen. So we're talking those about immediate steps that we can do and hopefully that could work and certainly as soon as the rain starts to fall heavily, then the waters are going to rise up in the lagoon and because that is the catchment area, the lagoon and then come into the river and flush out the river."
And while that could be on short term solution, Briceno concedes that in the longer term, everyone will have to start taking better care of their river:
Hon. John Briceno "The fact is the New River is contaminated and the fact is that all of us are responsible, not just one residence of Orange Walk Town, the communities along the New River, BSI, the Mennonites, all of us that have been using the river unsustainably and what we have in front of us right is now is what we call a perfect storm because of all the over use and the contaminants going on into the New River. There's a drought, it has been raining, it should have started raining from late May. We just had a decent shower last week Saturday and that is nowhere enough to flush out the river. So immediate, let's clean up the river as much as we can, secondly, set up a working committee and I think that is supposed to be made up of the town council, BSI and members from all the communities, DOE and the Mennonites so that then together we can up with this plan. Also I think we as a town, we need to stop throwing out dirty water into our drains and I know there is in particular a tortilla factory that throws off their dirty water into it and I think that needs to stop, that needs to stop now. I know that DOE has said that they are going to send 3 teams to be able to pick up all the dead fish that is causing the bad smell but if we live around the river and we see debris in the river, then let's clean it out. All of us, a little bit at a time and I think a lot can be done. We need to do something and we need to do something now. As we have been informed by the MET department, it says we can't expect rain until probably the end of the month and we need rain now."
Does New River Pollution Threaten Water Supply?
As you heard the Principal Public Health Inspector say, if the Belize River was polluted the way that the New River in Orange Walk currently is, thousands of Belizeans wouldn't have any access to drinking water from BWS. So, we wondered about safe drinking water for the Orange Walk District.
We asked the Operations Manager for Belize Water Services about that, and he said that it is very fortunate that Orange Walk consumers don't get water from the New River. Here's the conversation on that topic:
Reporter "Moving on to the current situation happening to the New River in the Orange Walk District, is that particular pollution threat - can it have an immediate impact on the source of water that BWS has access to?"
Dave Pascasio - Operations Manager, BWS "Well, fortunately for us in Orange Walk, our source is well water, which is not supplied by the New River. So, that is very fortunate for us, and our consumers in Orange Walk."
Reporter "Is the system in the Orange Walk District fully insulated from that level of pollution?"
Dave Pascasio "Yes, [we're] solely dependent on wells."
Stagnation of the New River: What is Being Done and the Prospect for Improvement
The public is advised on the condition of the New River and updated on the work that has and will continue to be done by the Department of the Environment to address the situation as best as possible.
The Department of the Environment (DOE) has continuously monitored the effluent discharge throughout the country into waterways and the sea using the Effluent Limitations Regulations and the Environmental Protection Act as a legal basis. No industry is allowed to discharge toxic compounds in any concentration. Big and small industries are allowed, however, to discharge non-toxic compounds in concentrations that are considered safe for the environment. These compounds include nitrates, phosphates, dissolved organic matter and sulphates which are found in most industrial and household chemicals including surfactants, detergents and shampoos. Nitrates and phosphates are also found in fertilizer. Discharge of these non-toxic compounds is done through the disposal of wastewater (known as effluent) into waterways, or from agricultural run-off following rains, and must be within legal (safe) limits.
The DOE has continuously monitored the effluent discharge of ASR-BSI and other major industries along the New River, which has resulted in major reductions in the concentration of these non-toxic compounds. However, the temperature and sulphates of the ASR-BSI effluent remains a challenge, but greater emphasis has now been placed on technology to bring these within limits. It is important for the public to understand that ASR-BSI is but one entity discharging effluent into the New River. The cumulative discharge of every other entity including other factories, businesses, hotels, restaurants, all the households, schools, offices also results in a large amount of non-toxic compounds going into the New River through wash water, kitchen water, bathroom water, and other types of wastewater including sewage soak-away. The release of effluent is the same on most other rivers in Belize, but no other river currently faces the problems being experienced on the New River.
Why is only the New River facing this problem?
a) The New River is the only river in Belize that is relatively flat from headwaters to sea. The land over which the New River flows is slightly undulating with no significant sloping to force strong water flow. Elevation at the New River Lagoon is around 0 metres and at the sea it is also 0 metres, but between these two points the land over which it flows rises and falls by several meters. For example, at the very mouth of the New River Lagoon the elevation is around 5 metres and at San Estevan the land rises to around 9 metres. The lack of strong sloping means that the New River is very slow flowing and because there are several high points along its path which constrain water flow, it means that it is vulnerable to stagnation at many points when flow is limited by drought. Compare this to the Rio Hondo which starts at an elevation of close to 250 metres and ends up at the sea at 0 metres, which gives it a strong flow even at low water levels. Please see Figures 1 and 2 in the supporting information below. Since rainfall is the main source of water for the New River, any lack of rainfall for extended periods will result in stagnation at many points along the New River, and this is what is currently being experienced. During severe stagnation the New River, as with any river, could be reduced to a series of independent stagnant pools. During stagnation, the dissolved oxygen is naturally reduced and results in anoxic conditions that lead to the generation of a bio-film on the surface and the generation of hydrogen sulfide gas that smells like rotten eggs. These natural symptoms of stagnation are worsened when non-toxic compounds such as nitrates and phosphates are already present in the system since they contribute to rapid algal growth (basically a fertilization effect) and a further decline in dissolved oxygen as the plant matter decays. Without sufficient oxygen in the water, fishes suffocate. Stagnation is further worsened when the water temperature increases due to hot weather since this leads to further lowering of dissolved oxygen.
b) The New River catchment is currently facing the worse drought seen in recent times. Rainfall data from the National Meteorological Service shows that the rainy season of 2019 has seen the lowest rainfall of any rainy season since 1983. Please see Figure 3 in supporting information. In fact, the rainy season of 2019 has received as little as 100 mm of rainfall per month, which actually qualifies it to be a dry season by definition. With the preceding dry season earlier on in the year, in effect what is happening is that the entire year has been one long dry season up to this point. This extreme drought combined with the intrinsic vulnerability of the New River as described above are major factors that are leading to the problems being observed.
While we cannot change the river or the weather, what can be done about the problem now?
In extreme drought conditions the river will stagnate and become unsightly and unsafe for aquatic life naturally, with or without the input of effluent. However, effluent input makes the situation worse. So the primary task of the DOE is to continue to work with industries to improve the quality of their effluent. The DOE will also expand its reach to work with other non-industrial sources of effluent such as restaurants and hotels to provide advice on how they can improve the quality of their wastewater. The DOE will also work towards the development of a watershed management plan that will be aimed primarily at minimizing the agricultural run-off into the New River through conservation of riparian areas. These are not immediate solutions, however.
Some immediate solutions that are being procured at the moment include the use of Aluminum sulphate and Effective Micro-organisms which when inputted into the stagnated sections of the river near to settlements, is expected to improve the water quality by coagulating or digesting the organic matter thereby reducing the emission of hydrogen sulfide. However, this will not improve the chances of survival of aquatic life as it will not boost dissolve oxygen in the water. It will also likely result in an immediate burst of hydrogen sulfide that will last for a while before dissipating. The smell of rotten eggs is expected to then go away after this burst. Another immediate solution being employed is aeration of the stagnated areas using pumps. As above, this will likely lead to an immediate burst of hydrogen sulfide but thereafter conditions are expected to improve. Another immediate solution already underway is the physical clean up of dead fish and refuse along the river. Please see photos in supporting information. These solutions while immediate, are not going to overcome the overwhelming influence of the drought affecting the New River and will not make it flow again. Only rain will accomplish a return to normalcy as we know it.
More expertise and boots on the ground to tackle the problem is also being procured at the moment. There are Belizeans who have work experience in Mexico and elsewhere tackling similar problems on an industrial scale who are being contracted to assist with advising on and executing recommended solutions.
Monitoring of hydrogen sulfide in the air will be performed with the assistance of the Belize Natural Energy Ltd using their specialized equipment. This will help to assess the usefulness of the immediate solutions outlined above.
The Department of the Environment will also be forming a taskforce to coordinate efforts to monitor and tackle the immediate problems as best as possible. They will also be providing frequent updates through press releases over coming days so as to keep the public informed. The public is reminded that in the absence of information reaching each and every person, there is still much happening and much work being carried out by the DOE and others to monitor and find solution to the problem being faced on the New River.
Re: New River Water Getting Milky Green
#538166 09/09/1906:05 AM09/09/1906:05 AM
On Friday 6th September 2019, the Department of the Environment (DOE) established a task force to deal with the current condition of the New River. During the first meeting of the task force, several options that could be taken to urgently remediate the conditions of the river were discussed.
One recommendation which the task force looked at favorably was the use of aerators to reintroduce oxygen into the river. One of the points discussed was the probability that any intervention conducted may have both beneficial and adverse effects. In this case, oxygen will be reintroduced into the ecosystem; however, this may also increase the release of hydrogen sulphide (H2S), which produces a strong “rotten egg” odor, into the air.
In this regard, the DOE informs the residents of Orange Walk Town and surrounding areas, that with the assistance of Haney Farms, the Department will obtain aerators to reoxygenate the water. The residents are advised that there is the risk that this action may immediately release some level of H2S into the air. The H2S is formed because of decomposition, which is a stage in the eutrophication process.
As such, the DOE will be conducting some trials along the New River, to reintroduce oxygen into the system. These trials will be conducted upstream of the river, to avoid disruption of the immediate areas and allow our team to test the effectiveness of the aerators being installed. During these trials, the DOE will evaluate how much oxygen can be reintroduced into the system and determine the risk of disrupting the sediments at the river bottom.
The DOE will keep residents informed about the progress of these trials, and any other pilots that may be conducted. Residents will be advised prior to proceeding with any remediation measures. The concerns of releasing H2S into the air and its possible effects on the health of residents, especially students, is a major concern for the Department.
For further information, please contact: Chief Environmental Officer Department of the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, Sustainable Development & Immigration Market Square, Belmopan Tel: 822-2548/2819 Email: [email protected] Website: www.doe.gov.bz
Re: New River Water Getting Milky Green
#538182 09/10/1905:40 AM09/10/1905:40 AM
Deployment of aerators today for test trial to reoxygenate the water in parts of the New River
Repairing The New River Begins With Aeration
For several weeks now, we've been showing you the severity of the pollution in the New River in the Orange Walk District. According to residents who have lived near it for many years, the river is the worst they have ever seen it.
The effects of the pollution are currently being felt all across the riverside communities, and currently, the most well-known impact is the problem it is causing for the over one thousand students at La Inmaculada Primary School in Orange Walk Town. The school had to close last week Thursday because of the noxious smell and it still isn't opened today.
They are currently considering whether or not they will have temporarily relocate the school in response to this public health threat, and we'll tell you what's the latest with that situation. We start first, however, with the plan that the Department of Environment is employing to try and reverse the effects of the pollution.
We're told that for the river to return to a healthier state, it will take years to rehabilitate. But, the DOE is taking that first step by installing aerators in one part of the New River. They want to see if this corrective measure will yield positive results before they roll it out to other parts. Our news team was in Orange Walk Town today to observe that process, and Daniel Ortiz learned more about it. Here's his report:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
These spinning devices, which you see in the middle of the New River, are called aerators. Their purpose is to pump oxygen back into the water so that its pollution damage can start to be reversed. The Department of Environment is literally attempting to breathe life back into the river, since dissolved oxygen is needed to sustain aquatic animals, and the pollution depleted most of its oxygen stores.
Edgar Ek - Deputy Chief Environmental Officer, DOE "We're going to install some aerators. This is basically to introduce oxygen into the water because right now, it's almost depleted, if not depleted. So, what that will do is to help in changing that situation."
"So what the aerators do is that it spins, it moves the water, and that's how oxygen is introduced into the water column. It brings everything from the bottom, up to 5 feet, I think those particular ones. And then, it starts to introduce oxygen."
But, the most immediate concern right now for those living near the riverbanks is the foul stench of dead fish and other flora and fauna that once called the river home.
Edgar Ek "It will help with the smell that we are having right now, the release of other toxic substances like H2S, and also prevent the condition from being anaerobic."
Reporter "Hydrogen sulfide is what you're referring to, right?"
Edgar Ek "Exactly, hydrogen sulfide."
Reporter "And that's what's causing the smell?"
Edgar Ek "It's not only that. It different chemicals that are being released, because, during the anaerobic process, chemical substances like methane and hydrogen sulfide are being released. How do you detect hydrogen sulfide, you'll have a rotten egg smell."
That rotten egg smell from the hydrogen sulfide in the river is not only an unbearable nuisance. At high concentrations, it can actually be very harmful to human health:
Edgar Ek "At very low levels, you'll start to smell it. Less than 1 part per million, you'll start to smell that rotten egg smell. Once you reach up, I think less than 100 parts per million, you'll have some minor effects on humans, like irritation to the throat, nausea, irritation to the eyes - thing like that. But, other segments of the population might be more susceptible to it. For example, those that suffer from asthma, because it causes the closure of the bronchioles. So, some situations like that will happen. But, from the information that we have right now, we are not reaching that level. Once you reach like 500 parts per million, then it's where you need to be concerned because, at that point in time, there is no smell, the concentration is higher. And then, you could have seizures and death within hours."
At this moment, the DOE personnel is running a pilot project with these aerators at El Gran Mestizo Resort, which is the home of Maracas Bar and Grill Restaurant in the Orange Walk. It's located at a part of the New River that is most negatively impacted by water pollution. The aerators are expected to stir up the hydrogen sulfide in the river, which will help, but like any sickness, the symptoms have to get worse before it gets better. So, the DOE wants to test how much of the harmful gas will be released once the aerators are activated.
Edgar Ek - Deputy Chief Environmental Officer, DOE "Whatsoever, it doesn't have to be the aerators. It could be other methodologies that we might introduce. There will be a phase where the situation will deteriorate. That's supposed to be short-lived, We're not expecting that it's going to extend for a long period. And after that, it should - if things work out as we expect, then it should turn out to be normal."
"Like I said, it's a trial. We want to be sure these are going to work, and we are going to measure water quality prior to the installation of this, continue to measure during the process. Along with it, we're going to measure the possible impacts, particularly H2S releases."
"The equipment that we have here right now, we have the sensors, the H2S sensors. There's a control in there. There are, I think, 3 sensors that are being placed around this area. Once it reaches a threshold, in this case, I think it's 8 parts per million, it sends a signal to the main control, and then, there's a light that starts to blink. That indicates to us that we're approaching very sensible levels in terms of mild impacts on humans. And I think the next alarm will come at or after 10 parts per million when it will start to emit a sound. And then, you should be more careful, in terms of putting masks and stuff like that."
Should the DOE personnel observe improvements in this testing area, then aerators will be installed at strategic points along the river, where the pollution effects are highest.
Edgar Ek "If we realize that things are improving in the river, in terms of using aerators, then we will start to install them, little by little, on a gradual basis, along the stretch of the impacted area."
"I just want to also caution people that use the river to be mindful of the equipment that we have in there. We don't want any accident to happen as well."
Of importance is residents have observed that animals are still dying in the river. This picture of an adult crocodile was taken several days ago and shows how this top apex predator in the environment has perished as a consequence of the pollution.
New River Boat Trip 7th September 2019 by Gordon Kirkwood
I was invited by Friends of the New River (FNR) to go on a boat trip with them and the Department of Environment (DoE) on Saturday 7th September 2019 to observe the state of the New River, and after the boat trip attend a meeting where remediation options would be presented.
This is a factual record of that trip.
Re: New River Water Getting Milky Green
#538212 09/12/1905:53 AM09/12/1905:53 AM
US professor warns of the dangers of aerating the New River
While local officials are working at resolving the issue at the New River, the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO) has expressed serious concerns over the solution to aerate the water. BELPO sent us a correspondence saying that they have been in contact with Dr. Guy Lanza, a Research Professor at the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology (ESF), State University of New York.
In the past, he has provided consultation to BELPO, on the Chalillo Dam and Macal River in Belize. He spoke with Love News and simplified the matter of the river’s pollution.
Dr.Guy Lanza, Research Professor, State University of New York:“The river as it exists now apparently has been receiving large quantities of untreated effluent probably from a sugar factory as well as some other runoff sources and so the problem is that when these materials from the sugar factory which have a lot of organic matter stuff that bacteria can break down, when this material gets into the water it removes oxygen at a very very fast rate and once the oxygen is removed from the water it causes problems with the organisms living in the water and it also causes problems with what we call legacy pollutants, pollutants that have been stored down in the bottom muds or sediments and are more or less trapped there and under normal healthy conditions they stay there but when the river receives a lot of effluent from sugar or other organic material the bacterial suck the oxygen out of the water and the sediment breaks down and releases those contaminants up until the water column itself. So apparently the reason for the problem is clearly because someone didn’t enforce, DOE, didn’t enforce the effluent guidelines. When you have an operation like a sugar factory releasing large quantity of effluent thats not treated directly into the river you can pretty much be sure you’re going to remove all of the oxygen in the water over a period of time and therefore the sediments are gonna start to release their contaminates.”
While local officials are only doing the aeration as a pilot project at the river’s upstream, Doctor Lanza noted that this method should be a “last ditch effort”. He outlines the dangers posed by the aeration method.
Dr.Guy Lanza, Research Professor, State University of New York: “My understanding is that their approach to fixing this problem is to go in with aerators and aerate the water, in other words they want to artificially put oxygen back into the water to replace the oxygen that the sugar plant effluent has removed. That’s problematic because when you do that you’re going to stir up sediments and when you stir up sediments those pollutants and bacteria that are trapped are going to be released up into the water column, they will immediately affect fish and other aquatic organisms living in the water, they will make those pollutants, toxic materials available to people in contact with the water, their pets, livestock so it’s just not a good situation to simply go in and aerate without really doing some sediment testing ahead of time to see what in those sediments is going to be released and what the health effects are going to be in the process of the release after aeration. Hydrogen sulfide is one of several gases that tend to be concentrated in the sediments and so it’s one of these toxins that I’m talking about, one of many, that will be released if you just simply go in with an aerator and bubble in a lot of oxygen to aerate the water. Hydrogen sulfide is something you don’t want to breathe, it’s a very toxic gas, you don’t want people or animals or pets or livestock, you don’t want any organisms breathing hydrogen sulfide, it’s not a good thing it’s clearly a toxic gas that you shouldn’t be inhaling.”
While residents in the immediate area of the New River are forced to tolerate the smell and sight, the reality is that there is no quick fix to the problem. According to Doctor Lanza, officials need to start by eliminating current unhealthy practices.
Dr.Guy Lanza, Research Professor, State University of New York: “If the sediments are highly contaminated with things other than hydrogen sulfide then what they’re gonna have to do is go and dredge those sediments out very carefully using the proper dredging techniques and remove them from the river and then take them off to a landfill site so that it can be deposited, isolated so they don’t leak out and leech into those problems later. So they’re gonna have to remove those sediments by physically dredging, dig them up and get them out of there, very expensive, very time consuming and very complicated, it’s a major engineering project. It’s always very expensive and complicated to clean up a mess like this after the fact and it’s unfortunate since it could be prevented by simply enforcing the environmental laws in the first place. It’s sort of like a lot of other environmental issues the first step is to stop adding the materials that are the cause of the problem. So again they need to stop releasing the effluent from the sugar production facility. Now that’s a legitimate business I’m sure there are ways in which you can do what they’re doing without destroying rivers. You simply have to treat the releases before they go into the river and that’s the cost of doing business. It’s a little more expensive than not doing anything at all but the cost of doing business is what’s necessary to protect the environment.”
In an email to BELPO, Dr Lanza explains that apart from hydrogen sulfide, the disruption of the sediments could release other toxic elements such as arsenic, zinc, cadmium, lead, and more, including greenhouse gases such as methane.
Does Aeration create more problems in the New River?
The Department of Environment has held meetings, conferences, public presentations and many other forums pertaining to the conditions of the New River and possible solutions. As it stands right now, the river is a milky green color. Reports of dead crocodiles, manatees and fish have continued unabated. The public has been pleading for something to be done as the stench from the river is almost unbearable and the health risks have raised concerns. Last we heard from the officials at the Department of the Environment, they were injecting oxygen into the river but there were adverse effects that such a solution would pose. Reporter, Naim Borges, traveled to Orange Walk to get the latest.
Naim Borges, Love FM News: After months of the New River being in a dire state of pollution and eutrophication, the government is finally making a move to remedy the problem. The river brings many health risks to aquatic life and those who live near the river, in particular students from La Inmaculada RC School, they were forced to cancel classes for an entire week, today the school decided to resume classes and students were asked to attend. We spoke with the principal of the school Lenny Umana who told us about the decision to reopen the school.
Lenny Umana, Principal, La Inmaculada RC School:“When it comes to the environment it has improved. I was a bit nervous this morning wondering how many children would be coming to school, I am glad to report that this morning we have between two to three children absent per class which is definitely good, that means that our parents are really trying to give it a break. The few children that are not coming are either children that are suffering from allergies or asthma so they’re trying to hold out a bit and I think that is the right and responsibility of the parent to do that but I can safely say right now that 85%- 90% of our students are back in school so that is very good for us. The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Environment are still monitoring the situation and they are in close contact with the school and our managments. Our teachers and our administration are also on alert as to ensuring that any reports coming from our students, our teachers be addressed immediately. So far so good, the atmosphere is not bad like last week, in fact I think its one of our best days since we have returned to school. The children have little masks in the event that they need it and today’s a day of observation, we are monitoring the situation rather closely and the Ministry of Health like the Ministry of Environment are ready to give us a final decision and I can’t even say final because our day is different every day, some days it’s better some days its worse so right now I can safely say today has been a good day for our school.”
Naim Borges, Love FM News: The school’s administration is carefully monitoring the area along with the Department of Environment to see if there are any major changes. When we were there everything seemed to be normal, there was no strong stench lingering around however the administration is prepared to mobilize if things go sour.
Lenny Umana, Principal, La Inmaculada RC School: “There are three options still on the table, we haven’t done away with it because we know we may need to pull out any one any time soon, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. We have the relocation which is our last choice, we also have the shift system which I think our assistant local manager is well aware of and he is leaning to that in the event that we will have to go and the other option is to have children stay at home until Monday and when they return on Monday we start classes at 8 and we dismiss them at 1:30 so that they have the least time, especially the afternoon part of the day which is the hottest. I am certain that at our school the concerns have not been coming in as of today but the concerns were here last week, today no concerns have been brought in. We have had two transfers but it wasn’t because of the river, it was something of a change of location so so far our parent community is staying firm with us. I think they have a little confidence in our administration and our staff that we will get through this and we will meet all their demands and the demands of our students. So I feel really good that they are giving us this opportunity, giving the school an opportunity because if we don’t get this through we will relocate and we don’t want to go anywhere.”
Naim Borges, Love FM News: While at the school we couldn’t help but listen to the sound of the aerators coming from Lamanai Landing restaurant. The restaurant is one of the many locations where the department has set up these aerators to help remedy the New River’s condition. This has many people concerned over the health risk that aerating the river might cause. To be specific the exhaustion of toxic gasses that are being trapped inside. We spoke with Anthony Mai, an environmental officer, who gave us an explanation of the process done before setting up an aerator.
Anthony Mai, Environmental Officer, Department of Environment:“We installed an aerator like the one you see behind us Monday at Maracas, we ran it for a period of time and immediately we realized that it showed some improvement in terms of the clarity of the water, the top layer of the river was clearing up a bit and so the plan then is – we installed this one yesterday on the 10th and then we are installing one today and we want to install a couple more throughout the day. We have them a distance apart so that we could then begin to monitor if there is any significant change. What we are doing is we monitor the water quality and the H2H level before we install the aerators and then when we install it we monitor the water column, we water 20ft, 15ft, 10ft, 5ft and surface for various parameters and we do that 50ft upstream from the aerator and 100ft upstream from the aerator and then we measure the same column we measure 50ft down from the aerator 100ft, 150ft, and 200ft and so we are still in the process of collecting this data to show concretely if it’s working. At least, for now, we see clarity in terms of the surface layer but we want to see if we will get any major increase in dissolved oxygen. Of note however is that you’ll see the aerator behind us and it’s operating and we have it operating at a very low speed because the school is a couple meters from us and we want to run it at this level for at least a few days and then hopefully Friday or Saturday we could take it up a bit more so we want to start slow just out of precaution and then we could increase the revolutions as we need to. We are doing testing, we are monitoring, we want to ensure that we do everything safe first and that we are getting the results that we want.”
Naim Borges, Love FM News: Testing continues to be done on the river and concrete results have not been established. We will continue to bring you the latest on the New River conditions.”
Research professor warns about disrupting sediments in the New River without study first
We are sharing information received from Dr. Guy Lanza, Research Professor, Department of Environmental and Forest Biology (ESF), State University of New York, Syracuse, NY whom we have consulted over the years concerning the Chalillo Dam and the Macal River.
Yesterday, we sent him a copy of the government press release, “Department of the Environment Provides Update on the New River Situation”. He contacted us today saying that the disruption of the sediments in the New River could release other toxic elements trapped in the sediments. He warned that, “They really should sample and analyze the sediments before they aerate to get some sense of the danger to the health of the people and the ecosystem.”
He has been involved in research, teaching, curriculum development, and consulting in the environmental sciences for more than 30 years, including ecotoxicology, environmental impact assessment, applied and environmental microbiology, aquatic ecology, and water quality and speaks with a lot of on-the-ground experience under his belt.
This is what he said:
Well, the aeration is a “last ditch effort” to quickly add oxygen to the contaminated water. Of course, the prior history of no enforcement of the effluents regulations — I assume DOE has effluent regulations for sugar plants — is the cause of the oxygen deficiency.
I’m sure that there is a lot of hydrogen sulfide built up in the sediment due to the eutrophication process that has been accelerated by their pollution. We have warned DOE about this in our earlier reports about the ecological risks of low dissolved oxygen (DO) in the water of the Chalillo dam and the Macal River — especially near the bottom muds where the hydrogen sulfide is stored/trapped.
The aerators they plan to use could stir up the sediments and release the toxic hydrogen sulfide gas — but not just to the air. The hydrogen sulfide will first be released to the water and then on to the air. It could introduce toxicity to both the aquatic food web and the people and animals close to the release point in the river. Also, the disruption of the sediments could release other toxic elements trapped in the sediments — arsenic, zinc, cadmium, lead, etc. and greenhouse gases like methane.
They really should sample and analyze the sediments before they aerate to get some sense of the danger to the health of the people and the ecosystem.
He added: Oh, and I should have mentioned the pathogens and their indicator organisms (coliforms) that could also be released.
His contact information is as follows: E-mail address: [email protected] Mobile: 413- 687-7685
We hope that his words are heeded and testing is done before possibly making matters worse. We also want to remind people that everything that happens in our rivers and watersheds ultimately impacts the Reef, as that is where the rivers flow to.
Update on the New River – Use of Aerators to Remediate Current Conditions of the New River
The Department of the Environment (DOE) hereby informs the public, especially residents of Orange Walk Town and those living in the vicinity of the New River, that the Department is implementing a pilot initiative to use aerators in the river, as recommended by the recently established New River Task Force. The intention is to remedy the current conditions of the New River by using aerators to introduce oxygen in the water and revert the current anaerobic condition of the river, consequently decreasing the stench coming out of the river.
The anaerobic condition of the river produces several by-products including methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide among others. These substances can produce the stench that residents have been complaining about; however, whenever there is a smell of ‘rotten egg’, it is an indication of the presence of hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide at small concentrations (more than 10 parts per million (ppm)) may have some impacts on human health such as headache, nausea or irritation among other mild effects. At extreme concentrations (>500 ppm) it becomes lethal/deadly.
On September 9, the DOE installed the first trial/pilot aerator at Maracas Bar and Grill property. The intention of the pilot is to introduce oxygen into the top layer of the river to stop the generation of hydrogen sulfide. The implementation of this activity started to show positive results with an improvement of the clarity of the top layer of the river; a slight increase in dissolved oxygen levels was also observed. Monitoring of hydrogen sulfide concentration in the area has shown to be far below the levels observed prior to the installation of the aerators.
Based on the positive results, the DOE has opted to install several other aerators within the vicinity of Orange Walk Town. To date, four sets of aerators have been installed in several locations of the river. The DOE will diligently monitor progress made at each location and the concentrations of hydrogen sulfide released.
The DOE advises the public to expect a period when the stench and hydrogen sulfide will peak but should normalize thereafter. This is normal since, whichever process is applied, a worse stage is initially expected but this should normalize after a period of time. Again, no significant negative impacts have been observed from the pilot phase, however, the public is also advised that rainfall on the river can also release the stench.
Finally, the DOE asks users of the river to take caution while navigating the river as several aerators have been installed near Orange Walk Town.
Location of installed aerators: Location 1 – Maracas Bar & Grill Location 2 – Lamanai Riverside Retreat Location 3 – Belize Vector & Ecology Center (BVEC) Location 4 – St. Christopher’s Hotel