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Government ‘jumped the gun’ over Rubis leak risks

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Nassau, 01 Aug 2015 – The government displayed poor judgment and risked giving false hope to Marathon residents by releasing incomplete findings on the health risks associated with the Rubis fuel spill on Robinson Road, Vanessa Haley-Benjamin said.

Lending her support to last week’s protest by Marathon residents outside the station, Haley-Benjamin, CEO of fast-growing social and environmental movement Save The Bays (STB), said authorities were wrong to tell residents they have nothing to fear from the toxic chemicals to which they were exposed for upwards of two years, as medical tests are far from complete – and likely to be less than conclusive when they are.

“The release of these premature results is unfortunate,” she said. “The government clearly jumped the gun. In reality, there is no satisfactory way in the short term to verify conclusively whether a person has been exposed to low levels of certain chemicals, for example benzene.”

Haley-Benjamin noted that according to Dr. van de Weerdt, toxicologist and consultant with the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), while the preliminary results may be encouraging, it remains important to establish a complete picture of the situation – both in terms of completing the health risk assessments and being in a position to reassure concerned citizens.

“The government should not be in the business of communicating simplified versions of this very serious situation to the public,” she said.

“With regard to the 223 persons tested, more information is required to understand the extent of the evaluations and if those tested are representative of both the original and possibly any newly impacted areas. To date, we know that 17,000 gallons of fuel have yet to be recovered from the ground. Over time, the impacted area will grow as the benzene spreads with the natural flow of groundwater.

“Residents of this area are very concerned for their safety – and rightfully so considering the known link between aggressive cancer and benzene exposure; and in light of the more than 20 recent cancer-related deaths in the area,” said Haley-Benjamin. “Exposure to low levels of benzene can result in chronic health effects and take a longer period of time to manifest. This underscores the need for long-term medical surveillance by a medical practitioner to detect abnormalities during early onset.”

Haley-Benjamin called for a full report of the investigation by the Department of Environmental Health (DEHS) and PAHO to be compiled and released to the public, and said officials should refrain from making any sweeping statements until such time.

She went on to stress STB’s full support for Justice for Marathon, the grassroots community group that organized last week’s protest, citing the lack of proper response to the leak by both government and Rubis, and the ongoing failure to fully address the concerns of residents.

Haley-Benjamin said STB’s call for stronger environmental legislation is also an effort to protect human health by either through prevention of hazardous pollution, or mitigation of the effects if such situations do arise. To that end, she called for the implementation of an effective response and public warning system for hydrocarbon leaks, and a comprehensive monitoring program for all fuel stations, in line with the recommendations in the report by consultants Black & Veatch, who were contracted by the government to evaluate the response to the Marathon spill more than a year ago.

Save The Bays CEO Vanessa Haley-Benjamin participates in last week’s protest, pointing out 20 recent cancer-related deaths in the area of the fuel leak.

In January 2013, it came to the attention of Rubis and the government that the Robinson Road station had leaked around 24,000 gallons of gasoline into the ground.

The resultant presence of strong hydrocarbon vapors and discovery of large pools of underground gasoline forced the station’s immediate neighbor, Cable Bahamas to evacuate its Customer Service Building (CSB) amid fears of health and safety issues for customers and staff. Eventually, more than 40 staff members had to be treated for exposure.
It has been confirmed that the leak led to the contamination of a wide area of groundwater, including the water supply to several homes and residents have reported a range of health problems.

For two years, Rubis and government officials were aware of the leak and the associated dangers, but failed to make any public announcements, sparking widespread outrage.

Since then, two further possible leaks at Rubis stations in New Providence have come to light. In the wake of the fallout from the Marathon case, both Rubis and the government appeared to take swift action. However yet again, they only broke their silence in response to concerns raised by members of the public.

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Education

Education Minister announces Platinum Partnerships for internet and tablet program amidst COVID surge

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By Shaniek Smith

Staff Writer

 

#TurksandCaicos, January 15, 2022 – Schools did not resume in person learning in the Turks and Caicos on January 4, instead it was back to virtual classes for 7,400 children in the British overseas territory due to an omicron-driven surge in Covid-19 infections.

It was announced on the New Year’s Day holiday for TCI, January 3 in a press conference hosted by Rachel Taylor, the Minister of Education, and attended by Jamell Robinson, Minister of Health and supported by Premier Washington Misick, who was also at the live event.

In a promised update, parents got the not-so-good-news, virtual classes would resume at least until the end of January due to the surge and staff shortages being experienced.  Turks and Caicos, up to Thursday January 14 had over 800 active cases, five new deaths and a 600 per cent increase in hospitalisations.  The Minister said the decision was in the interest of safety.

The Minister also promised to get devices and internet to students in order for them to participate in learning during this virtual-only season.  The press conference on January 13, welcomed partners Flow, Digicel and the Pine Cay Project.

In her address, chair of the Pine Cay Project, Marie Landel, said that an urgent call from Dr. Carlton Mills, a member of their board of trustees revealed that about 750 students would be without internet connection and devices.

The Pine Cay Project responded to that information and has agreed to pay for internet for 30 days students, with its partner in the initiative, DigicelTCI.  It is an $18,000 investment in education continuity for hundreds of children.

“We had strong discussions on what we should do with the money that we collect every year, so yesterday we agreed to the funding in emergency situation of 300 internet connections and devices that are going to help the students in need, and we’re very proud to be able to act quickly,” Landel expressed.

Additionally, the Marketing Manager at Digicel TCI, Mr Drexler Smith, said Digicel has partnered with the Ministry of Education to provide about 1,000 tablets for public schools. Smith added that 75 MiFi devices valued at 7,000 dollars were provided; they come with free data services for up to three months for students in need.

Digicel has also created a special education plan for e-learning with specific zero-rated sites and applications. The company partnered with Pine Cay and other private entities in this regard. Various schools and educational facilities in South Caicos, Five Cays, and Providenciales have benefitted from laptops, data plans, MiFi’s, and e-learning kits.

Marketing Executive Flow TCI, Darron Hilaire, also shared the contributions Flow made to the education sector since the pandemic.

“Within the last three years, Flow TCI, through our charitable foundation, would have donated $130,000 worth of ICT equipment to 2 schools respectively in Grand Turk and in Providenciales for the outfitting of the new computer labs to help facilitate the ministry’s vision to foster an efficient e-learning environment for students,” he said.

Mr. Hilaire added that within the first year of the pandemic, Flow responded to requests from the Ministry to increase the bandwidth to public schools in the TCI. Hilaire said Flow home internet speed doubles automatically at no cost to its customers in early July.

He said that within the last 60 days, Flow TCI announced a recent donation of $25,000 dollars to two schools in North Caicos and one in Providenciales. The donation was in aid of increasing connectivity and infrastructural upgrades.

“As we come to the end of this phase of the project, our objective is to look at doing the same for other schools in the second phase of the projects to further arm our schools with the access to technology to provide the best quality education to students,” Hilaire added.

Amanyara Resort, not present at the press event, was said to be working on additional laptops for hundreds of children despite having already donated to several schools in Providenciales.

Minister Rachel Taylor and her team, including Eugene Grant, ICT Education Officer at the Ministry of Education and Mark Garland, Deputy Director of Education thanked the donors; they were labelled Platinum Partners by the Minister.

 

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Health

Over 5000 COVID cases on Cruises, CDC investigations launched

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By Dana Malcolm

Staff Writer

 

#January 15, 2022 – Cruises have continued across the Americas despite the US Centers for Disease Control dire warning that even vaccinated individuals should be wary of them. Now the CDC informs that Coronavirus cases have been reported on every cruise ship sailing with passengers in U.S. waters.

According to the CDC, all 92 ships with passengers have met the threshold for investigation by the public health agency. In every case, the CDC has either started an investigation or has investigated.

Surges in Covid-19 on land have led to spikes on the high seas, revealed that update on Tuesday. Cases have rocketed from 162 in early December to 5,013 up to December 29th.

The CDC warned travellers including those who are vaccinated to avoid cruising in December, following the announcement videos surfaced of jam-packed cruise ships with unmasked passengers ringing in the New Year.

Meanwhile, Grand Turk is still welcoming cruise ships.  Eleven cruise ships are scheduled to dock at the Grand Turk Cruise Center throughout January, according to the port schedule.

Jamell Robinson, TCI Minister of Health has confirmed that ships have been allowed to dock in Grand Turk with positive COVID cases on board.

He said. “Now in each ship there are stations or places for isolation on board…Just because a vessel has people with Covid-19 on it doesn’t necessarily mean we wouldn’t allow them to disembark.”

The minister explained the number of positive cases recorded on cruise ships that had arrived in Grand Turk was .001 per cent of all guests and they were not allowed to disembark.

So far, Turks and Caicos has turned away at least one cruise liner due to fears of COVID exposure in the capital, which has gone from a handful of active cases to now 111, as of January 14.

The US Centers for Disease Control reported on Tuesday that COVID-19 cases on cruise ships have increased to 30 times what they were in mid-December.

 

 

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Health

New York, US Epicenter for Omicron “turning the corner”

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By Shanieka Smith

Staff Writer

 

#USA, January 15, 2022 – Today, New York is seeing a downward trend in Covid-19 cases, as officials revealed, “we are turning the corner” on Friday in updating on the state of affairs in the city, labelled the epicenter of omicron for the United States.

Before, data from the New York State Department of Health showed that the number of new coronavirus infections per 100,000 vaccinated residents in the State, rose from 29.8 in the first week of December to 222.3 last week.  Also, the rate of new cases in unvaccinated adults rose from 239.6 to 1,583.1 per 100,000.

New York is a key source market for the Turks and Caicos and much of the Caribbean, which is heavily reliant upon winter travellers.  The data showed, too, that vaccine effectiveness against severe infection remained high.

Only 4.59 fully vaccinated adults out of 100,000 were hospitalised with COVID-19 in the week of December 27.  However, that number increased, and the hospitalisation rate for the unvaccinated is nearly 13 times higher.

New York’s rolling positivity rate fell below 20% in recent days, but media reports indicate the death toll in the State hit a startling high of 195 for the first time since the mass vaccination rollout.

 

 

 

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