USA Embassy Unfairly Issues PUBLIC Health Advisory on Barbados
The following communication was brought to the attention of the BU blogmaster by the Administrator of Facebook page Social Education and Accountability in Barbados.
–NB: This was going to [be] posted last Monday. However there was so much noise on the topic that the concern was that it would be lost in the fog.–
Our aim is to attain accurate information with minimal political rhetoric, preferably from source to reduce concerning levels of misinformation being propagated as fact.
We need to accurately identify those responsible for the failings of Sewerage System and hold them accountable in adherence to the Group’s principles of good governance, participation, transparency, accountability and prediction. There will be a time for accountability. Currently we require participation and transparency.
During a meeting with the BHTA on Friday January 26 2018, I commended the GM Mr Keithroy Halliday for taking the lead, providing key information about the problem and quelling much of the misinformation being spread locally and now internationally.
I reminded him of Principle 10 of the Rio Accord of which Barbados is party. This primarily states that the community/citizenry must be included and be participatory to any discussion on matters relating to the Environment. Accordingly I reiterated that the 285,000 of us are part of his team. We are not adversaries to the BWA. We are not interested in blame or what has gone on in the past. There will be a time for that. We are interested in the current situation and how can we help! What are the issues? How long will we have to endure?
I found Mr. Halliday to be genuine and forthright. He earned my utmost respect.
As a consequence please note the following messages from the GM of the BWA and one from the acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Best
COMMENTS BY Mr Keithroy Halliday GM of BWA
“I hope that by being as transparent and as open as we can be, however cautiously at times, that we can get that Trust.
“I rarely comment openly on fb on these matters but loose speculation without facts and the propagation of misinformation will forever be our damnation. Chlorination increase in the treatment of water supplies to the south coast was done out of an abundance of caution when the sewerage overflows increased and the discovery of breaches in the system was suspected. This is in the most unlikely event that we have a burst pipe/main that results in the influx/draw of water other than treated water into the mains. There is nothing in the least suspicious or hidden about that. Under my watch, there has not and will be no deliberate deflection of information. We have been presenting the facts as clearly and as honestly as understood but in fairness, we are now using the offices of GIS to ensure better dissemination of the information that the BWA been sharing for the past while. For several of the residences tested, they actually have independent mains supply and none are the recipient of potable water from the mains supplying or are even located in the direct catchment area of the south coast where the breaches and fractures are evident. The bacteria could not be determined because neither the BWA or EPD or MOH who have such lab facilities or access to such lab facilities were involved in the process sufficiently early and the [US] Embassy testing only provided very non-specific details but the BWA records demonstrate that our potable water testing in the areas where the embassy tested the water at those US Embassy residences, even as recently as this week is SAFE.
The information from our health officials , ministry of foreign affairs and the BWA through myself has been accurate. Discussion is healthy and should keep those in Authority rightfully on our toes but we must be doubly responsible about our remarks when our health and economy is at stake. In repeating, statements made before and during several discussions, the BWA conducts tests on fifty samples weekly. This was particularly augmented by over 100 tests since December 2017 in addition to near shore water testing. Our tests are rigid and rejected if the protocol has strictly not been observed and fresh samples always immediately redone if there is a failure in result or suspected protocol breach. Based on advices the BWA has never had a failure rate on retesting. We have had fluctuation in levels from time to time but these are never cause of concern, being within satisfactory levels. When visiting properties, testing can never be done in isolation, the point of source or even entry must be tested and compared to tests done on properties and particularly those with water storage capacities or properties that have not been fully occupied for a while or even properties that plumbing was done on. In the latter cases, sometime pseudomonas species is discovered to be a typical bacteria of note as they can grow in stagnant and tank waters. I go further..for clarification we have agreed with the embassy to a regime where simultaneous samples will be take. For all of their 68 properties in addition to the ones already tested.. test at source and on property. Once must test BWA potable water at well sources and on properties, and throughout the distribution system then we can draw conclusions. The Embassy Health Alert to its employees was more detailed that that to the public and in that context as indicated by them was done under the clear direction of their Washington office out of an abundance of caution as would obtain for any other jurisdiction for the slightest of risk.
They only tested 5 for which 4 showed elevated levels of bacteria. All properties have tanks and are not in the area of concern and neither are they connected to the same shared mains.
The announcement/advisory was done at 6 pm on Thursday night. It would be foolhardy to jump and denounce without checks being done; firstly did the BWA have any compromised results recently? Secondly were we (BWA/other affected agencies) a part of the process? Thirdly who were the impacted ministries besides the public that needed to weigh in and give their findings (testing is also done by epd and MOH), fourthly: were we all using the same protocols, same labs, both testing on property and at source? Fifthly – when were the tests done and did ours confirm, sixthly it is our responsibility to ensure that the nature of the results were understood as in the unlikely event pathogens were confirmed to be present we needed to immediately treat from a Public health standpoint and then deal with the fallout seventhly, we responded the very next day as given the above we wanted to back our denouncement by facts and evidence based analysis, eighthly whether someone follows diplomatic protocols to the extent we may like or perceive, there was an agreement to meet and gather more details at the meeting with the embassy officials the next day at ten am before speaking aloud and this had to be respected. The discussion coming out of that meeting rightly informed the way forward. A press release was crafted and a press conference held at 2 pm to firmly address. If you saw the video of the same conference I was at and understanding the nature of all diplomatic relations you would not suggest rash responses but respect the process that was followed and you would have also seen very clear pronouncements made about our water quality. The Minister was also clear about not engaging in tit for tat behaviours.
I am weary of entering any particular space that could be adjudged to be political. As a BWA employee, I support strongly the positions taken by the joint ministries and our responses. Where BWA is concerned, I think the public is aware of our water quality and trust our statements to be true. The south coast challenges are a test of our organizational abilities and that of the supporting ministries but being intimately close to activities on the ground gives me a sense of confidence that all is being done to arrest the situation.
Understandably it was of immense concern to all of the stakeholder ministries which is why we responded immediately. The one thing we have always been proud of is our water quality. We recognise the risks and guard against them and this should not be confused with instances of brown water which I will will tackle this week
It was a collaborative effort by joint ministries to responsibly address the issue with great haste and caution. Centrally, it was and will continue to be made clear that our water is safe. This is an inescapable FACT! Our weekly rigid test sampling of at least 50 per week proves that. Secondly EPD and MOH who performs independent test do not hesitate to rap the BWA if they have the slightest bit of concern regarding health risks. To that end we knew that if near shore testing or any causal link to the recent Viral GI from the south coast was made, business and beaches would have been closed! Thirdly, though a blow as a second advisory of sorts, it was a highly cautionary alert by the US citizens under their care. We understand why we can be circumspect about other motives as individuals but as a Government, and based on enquiry and the meeting held with the US Embassy Officials, the protocols followed and the explanation offered by the US Embassy was officially accepted. Fourthly, what is missing is our data that would have addressed/rebutted concerns about our water quality for source testing and Fifthly the US water test results were based on results ON property only and we simply do not know what protocols were followed.”
I think it sparks a healthy debate but if folks are not listening or reading or analyzing, they are in danger of inflicting real harm to our country. All matters of discourse must be properly contextualised. Yes, We owe ourselves a duty of care to give constructive criticism, but I think fairly not to be active participant of the spread of paranoia or fear-mongering.
The meeting with the US embassy officials served to inform the press meeting approach and content. The relationships are cordial and from the US perspective, they had to follow the standard protocols set in place by their Washington office. We obviously do not like the end result, but we have made it clear concerning the quality of our water supply.
They were only able to confirm a very non-specific elevated total bacteria count. This did not include any of the three kinds that would normally raise alarms. The bacteria could be harmless or it could have potential negative effects, but this can only be analyse with further tests [BU emphasis].
It’s a concern for us, particularly if instances of bacteria elevation are pointed to the BWA, where unfounded and therefore we will assist with the PSAs.
COMMENTS from Dr Anton Best Acting Chief Medical Officer:
Just to reiterate of the 4 types of tests done at the 5 selected residences, the one that was positive was the heterotrophic plate count. The other 3 tests for pathogenic bugs were negative.
The HPC is a very nonspecific test that when positive warrants further investigation to confirm the type of bacteria, then localize the source. If the residences had water tanks on them, it is likely that there was stagnation, declining chlorine levels then lead to a proliferation of pseudomonas. This is speculative! This would not be due to contamination from the BWA, the BWA would however help remedy. To implement a remedial action having not done additional tests is irrational and careless on the part of those responsible for the testing or the management of the problem.
The alert was unwarranted and misleading.