A Cayman 27 investigation uncovers National Roads Authority vacuum trucks illegally discharging potentially contaminated solids and wastewater into a wetlands area.
The Water Authority told Cayman 27 this is a practice it does not endorse.
Last week, Cayman 27 senior reporter Joe Avary tagged along with an NRA crew as one of its vacuum trucks pumped a smelly and potentially toxic mixture of wastewater, sand, and sludge out of clogged drainage wells.
Wednesday (6 June), while driving from one assignment to another, he was shocked to see another NRA vacuum truck backed into a wetlands area along the Linford Pierson Highway, apparently discharging its contents into the natural environment.
This prompted him to record the event. He then reached out to multiple agencies and ministries, including the NRA and Water Authority, for answers.
NRA crews routinely use a vacuum trucks to suck out the smelly mixture of sand and potentially contaminated solids that clog drainage wells across our islands, but you may be surprised to find out exactly where it’s disposed of.
Cayman 27 cameras caught an NRA vacuum truck discharging its contents on a piece of swamp land along the Linford Pierson Highway, in direct contravention of the Water Authority Law.
“It is very specific, it says if you do anything that impacts groundwater, including the discharge of waste into or onto the ground, that is the terminology that is in the law, that requires a permit from the Water Authority,” said Water Authority Water Resources Engineer Hendrick van Genderen.
Mr. van Genderen told Cayman 27 the Water Authority would be unlikely to grant such a permit.
“We do not know exactly what it is, and that is the potential problem. If it were all natural materials that’s in there, sand and a little bit of leaves and that sort of business, it wouldn’t be a bad thing, but we recognize that this material is not of good quality, and it may have whatever pollutants in it,” said Mr. van Genderen.
NRA Acting Managing Director Edward Howard contributed a written statement Thursday.
“To my knowledge, there was a previous arrangement with DEH to discharge well effluent at a specially-prepared location at the landfill. This arrangement it appears is no longer feasible,” read Mr. Howard’s statement in part. He did not say how long the NRA has been discharging its vacuum trucks outside the landfill.
Mr. Howard said the NRA is working with the Water Authority and others to develop a solution for more effective discharge of this sort of waste.
“This particular case, based on the conversation that we had via email with the NRA, this is not an adversarial situation,” said Mr. van Genderen.
Mr. van Genderen told Cayman 27 he’s confident the NRA and other agencies are committed to a solution that does not include roadside discharge.
“We always have the tools available where they can be prosecuted under the law, but that is kind of a last resort, taking people to court is a whole messy situation, it’s very costly, and it takes a lot of time,” he said. “If you have to do it, you do that, but you try first to work with people who are causing this sort of problems.”
The Water Authority said proper disposal of this type of waste would entail separating the solid components from liquid components.
The solids could potentially be disposed of at the landfill, and the remaining wastewater – provided it was free of oil – could potentially be treated with other wastewater at the water treatment plant.