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Expert cautions Gov’t on red mud exploration

A global expert policy advisor and renewable energy management strategist is cautioning Government against diving into rare earth explorations without considering the “unprecedented terrible damage that it has done to countries outside of the region”.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, Dr Everton H Flemmings said countries like Australia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and China are licking their wounds from the after-effects of similar forays.

He said Government must ensure that the regulatory framework is in place to safeguard the environment.

“In these countries, they all have environmental problems in terms of the mining and the research facilities. It is not the process of the product or the metal, it’s actually the process of mining that releases some very harmful contaminants into the air and water,” Dr Flemming said.

“…Most of these areas that we have seen, they have environmental problems including sulphur, chlorine and waste water that contain excessive radioactive materials, and I think that is the reason China have lowered their target and their quota because of the environmental issues and the supply that they would like to keep in-house,” he told the Observer.

He said while most of the products mined are good for renewable energy purposes and the advancement of technology, there was a downside that should not be ignored.

“We must understand that people will grow angry if we begin to mine it, the country’s experience is that everybody suffers enormous environmental impact and degradation of their environment because of the mining. All countries are subjected to that,” Dr Flemmings pointed out

He said larger countries where mining was far from civilisation stood a better chance of living with the dangers presented.

“Jamaica cannot afford to do that. Jamaica is a very small country and if you start mining in Mandeville, you can imagine how all the pollution is going to go across the country quickly,” he said.

Meanwhile, he has expressed solidarity with the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), which on Monday called for a public meeting following revelations that the facility to extract rare earth elements from the bauxite mining residue (red mud) will be located on the premises of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) within the Hope Gardens complex.

“In terms of the research facility, why would you want to have that in the pristine area of the Hope Gardens area. And, how are you gonna transport that?” Dr Flemmings asked.

He also queried what mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that radioactivity does not occur in the transportation and processing of the red mud.

“We must be mindful of what has happened in all the other countries that have been mining rare earth. The Mountain Pass mine in California was forced to close down in part due to huge finds arising from a series of 60 unreported waste water spills containing radioactive materials, most of which actually ended up in the dry lake, and secondly the radiation from another plant in Malaysia which is being blamed for incidents of birth defects and leukaemia among the local population and public anger was widespread,” he said.

“We don’t want that situation in Jamaica. So, outside of China, most of them have to close down due to potential hazards to persons who live around it. While many times local residents seem unaware of the risks associated with radioactive waste, the governments still do it so we have to be very careful about what is actually happening in Jamaica at this time and specific concerns must include contamination of groundwater, surface water and surface water run-off,” Dr Flemmings cautioned.

He also called for a “responsible level of development in terms of assessment and environmental risk assessment so that we are quite clear and the people of Jamaica are quite clear of what is really going on”.

“Because any time a single particle of an airborne radionuclide is represented in Jamaica’s air quality it does not prevent more from happening and actually begins the process of air contamination in the country,” Dr Flemmings said.

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