Sunday, April 21, 2024



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THERE’S BEEN much babble recently about Black Swan, the movie; I’m more concerned about black smoke, the killer.
In boisterous 96-point typeface the headline demanded attention just as I was setting out on my early morning walk. It shouted Big Bill For Health Care and went on to inform me that “a whopping $32 million will be spent by the Ministry of Health this year on primary health care services”.
Like a drill sergeant, the voluble Minister of Health exhorted us to “roll up our sleeves, think outside of the box and find sustainable solutions which will see us satisfactorily addressing the health needs of our citizens”.
Words full of energy, encouragement and enthusiasm signifying little while, daily, across this island smoke gets in your lungs. Your eyes, too!
As I motored along Bay Street pondering the minister’s call to arms, far from rolling up my sleeves, I was forced to roll up my windows as ZR after ZR van belched acrid black smoke. And to think that this would continue all day, up and down Highway 7 and many other roads across Barbados.
Respite came only after I pulled over into the car park at the Esplanade and, for the next hour and a half, breathed clean, fresh air off beautiful Carlisle Bay.
Is the minister aware that the occupants of this country daily breathe, like oxygen, a dangerous cocktail of carcinogenic air pollution? It includes carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, benzene, formaldehyde, polycyclic hydrocarbons and lead, among other toxins. 
That potentially deadly list of poisons came from the Environmental Protection Department nearly four years ago. One of its functionaries relieved himself of this gem of procrastination:
• It’s going to take time; we can’t rush things;
• There’s a lack of testing equipment;
• People first have to be trained;
• The equipment has to be properly calibrated;
• There has to be a period of testing;
• Will it be acceptable in a court of law?
He added, with all the urgency in paying citizens their income tax refunds: “Even though it’s on the law books, we can’t just suddenly start dealing with it. This is something that will take time to develop before we are fully ready.”
In other words, let’s wait for another decade or two. 
Other countries pass the necessary legislation and enforce the law. Not so in long-suffering Barbados. Ours is always a unique situation; one that will take time; one that might call for a seismic event like the moving of Heaven and earth; if not the Second Coming. 
A few weeks ago I sent this letter to the Editor: “ZR3 and ZR231 do not emit black smoke.” A senior journalist emailed: “What was that about?” He thought it was a misprint.
It was no misprint. I was saying that black smoke need not be a fact of life on our roads. I was hoping that other observers would highlight PSVs that are not emitting dangerous fumes. I was trying to see how many owners of public service vehicles would follow the lead of ZR3 and ZR231 and tune their engines properly. 
I was reminding the Environmental Protection Department that it should prosecute the offenders and pull those vehicles off the road. We pass laws but fail to enforce them. The Motor Vehicle And Road Traffic Act makes it an offence to leak oil or emit smoke. The law is there.
Scientists in Britain last week revealed that air pollution triggers more heart attacks than cocaine and poses as high a risk of sparking a heart attack as alcohol, coffee and sexual exertion.
The World Health Organisation describes air pollution as “a major environmental risk to health” and estimates that it causes around two million deaths worldwide every year. Barbadians, too, are dying and steadily expanding that $32 million health bill . . . and the fiscal deficit. How much more black smoke must people inhale?
• Carl Moore was the first Editor of THE NATION and is a social commentator.


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