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DOEThe Department of the Environment continues to be on the hot seat tonight as Orange Walk residents and several environmental groups are demanding answers when it comes to the current contamination of the new River.

For decades now the river has experienced the same illness between the months of April and June. It all starts with an unbearable smell followed by a change in its pristine colour and then a fish kill and damage to wildlife.

This year though the situation is worse as approximately 17 miles of the river is covered with a white foamy substance. And while some residents are already complaining of health issues, the owners of businesses that operate along the river bank are also concerned since the issue is already causing a dent on their business.

Now, while everyone is putting pressure on the DOE, we must mention that every year when the river gets sick representatives of the department take samples of the affected area. What is lacking though is a report of the results and with that comes the finger pointing as blame of the contamination is being placed on businesses that operate along the river bank. This year is no different as we do understand that last week representatives of the DOE visited the areas affected where samples were retrieved from the river for further testing.

While we tried to get an official comment from DOE representatives today, our efforts proved futile. But here is what we were able to find out. We understand that as part of the process, DOE tested for three main water quality variables including one, temperature to determine the warmth of the water that flows into the river from the sugar factory, as well as from the town itself and other areas.

The second variable includes oxygen availability while the third comprised of testing for nutrients namely, nitrogen and phosphorus which is the only variable considered as a pollutant. Additional reports suggest that as it relates to Temperature and nutrient concentration…findings have shown that it was above the normal range, whereas oxygen on the other hand, was below the normal range. While these three parameters are considered to be out of sync, it has resulted in algal blooming which is reportedly said to be reproducing out of control, causing a discoloration of the river from a healthy dark green to a milky green color.

While the algae reportedly reduces the level of oxygen in the water, it can result in the death of fishes and other aquatic life. We understand that the DOE should be conducting tests to determine what type of algae is present in the river as there is the possibility that toxins may be released in the water, depending on its species.

While the contamination of the water is also heavily influenced by human activity, reports indicate that a test carried out last year reflected that the temperature was above range. This was as a result of warm water coming from BSI/ASR. At that time the company was advised to cool the temperature of the water before it was dumped into the river. Other sources of contamination reportedly include drains coming out from the town which contain effluents as well as other businesses such as the tortilla factory, restaurants and hotels also operating in the area.

And though the matter, we understand is being investigated, the DOE is finalizing its conclusions which is expected to be made public soon following a meeting to be held with stakeholders throughout the course of the week. However, for now the public is advised to refrain from eating fish from the river and as it relates to the water quality, depending on how quickly the DOE can control the three aforementioned variables, normalcy should be restored.

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