With Guyana’s rapidly expanding development taking place across all sectors, it is critical that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) be equipped and trained to effectively respond to environmental emergencies, in order to reduce environmental impacts and risks to human health. In order to effectively respond, the EPA has developed Guidelines for Environmental Emergency Response, and has trained approximately 60 per cent of its staff in the Incident Command System, while another fifteen persons have been trained in Shoreline Cleanup Technique.
Additionally, the Agency has invested in a vehicle and environmental monitoring equipment to aid effective response.
According to the United Nations Environment Program, an environmental emergency is a sudden-onset disaster or accident resulting from natural, technological, or human-induced factors, or a combination of these factors, that causes or threatens to cause severe environmental damage as well as harm to human health and/or livelihoods.
In accordance with the EP Act, Cap 20:05, the EPA responds to environmental emergencies, and would also provide technical support to sister agencies responding to environmental emergencies, including the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission.
Given the EPA’s mandate to oversee the effective management, conservation, protection, and improvement of the environment; and to prevent or control pollution, it is our responsibility to respond in an operational role for environmental emergencies. Technical advice is provided before, during, and after emergencies to the Government, industry, and the community through scientific, engineering and regulatory expertise, on the environment and impacts to health from pollution caused.
Besides the major benefit of providing guidance during an emergency, developing a plan has other advantages. During emergency response, discoveries of unrecognized hazardous conditions that would intensify an emergency situation can be addressed to eliminate them. The planning process often highlights or pinpoints challenges such as the lack of resources, (equipment, trained personnel, supplies, etc.) or items that can be corrected before an emergency occurs. In addition, an emergency plan promotes safety awareness and shows the organization’s commitment to the safety of its workers.
As probability of the occurrence of an emergency is often high, preplanning is necessary. A well-thought-out, well-organized emergency response plan would help to eliminate these issues. An urgent need for rapid decisions, shortage of time, and lack of resources and trained personnel can lead to chaos during an emergency.
Time and circumstances in an emergency mean that normal channels of authority and communication cannot be relied upon to function routinely. The stress of the situation can lead to poor judgment, resulting in severe losses.
The CDC has developed a number of plans to respond to environmental emergencies, including the Guyana National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (August 2020), Flood Preparedness and Response Plan, and Disaster Risk Management.
Environmental emergencies that have gotten the EPA’s attention during the past year and to date include tailings spills, chemical spills, fuel spills, and a suspected oil spill. Other emergencies include bird strikes and fish kills, as well as spinoff incidents from natural hazards, eg an earthquake, damaging an industrial facility, which in turn releases hazardous materials.
The EPA’s Emergency Response System (EERS) has two designated telephone numbers that members of the public can dial to report environmental emergencies and request the Agency’s response. The EERS will be operational daily on a 24 hours system. The numbers designated for the EERS are 592-225-5469, 592-623-4594, and 592 623-4614. As part of this system, the Agency has designated officers who are specialized and prepared to respond to specific environmental emergencies, eg. fish kills, chemical spills etc.
You can share your ideas and questions by sending letters to: “Our Earth, Our Environment”, C/O Communications, Environmental Protection Agency, Ganges Street, Sophia, GEORGETOWN, or email us at: [email protected]. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram and subscribe to our YouTube channel.