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New River Healing Slowly, Students and Residents Coping

New River Healing Slowly, Students and Residents Coping
September 27
08:54 2019

Thursday, September 26, 2019

It has been weeks that residents of Orange Walk Town have been grappling with the effects of coping with the contamination of and stench coming off the New River, and while there seems to be a change in the color and water quality of the river, the offensive smell remains.

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Last week the La Inmaculada RC School, which sits on the banks of the river, was forced to initiate phase one of their emergency plan after an alarm sensor detected Hydrogen Sulfide in the atmosphere and sent off its alarm warning residents that their surroundings were toxic.

While the Department of the Environment later confirmed with the Reporter that the alarms were deliberately turned on but that they had failed to inform the school authorities of their plans to test the sensors, the school stuck with their decision to proceed with their internal emergency mechanism.

School Principal Lenny Umaña this week confirmed with the Reporter that that decision was made in partnership with the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Health. According to Umaña the decision to initiate phase one was kicked into effect after noticing that it was only after the lunch hour that the stench from the river would peak and become unbearable.

The school then sent out a notice informing parents and guardians to cooperate with the school and that classes would commence at 8:00 a.m. As it stands the students are still given their 10:30 recess break and then a 15 minutes supervised lunch break before their dismissal at 1:30.

Umaña assured the Reporter that despite the changes in their schedule the students are not missing out on their education and that the school is meeting their five hour contact time with the students as stipulated by the Ministry of Education.

“We were really expecting a dip in our attendance but the parents are keeping firm, the students are attending and the teachers are teaching. So it’s a very strange scenario taking place because as the Principal I had really believed that the children would have stayed home. But I think that some parents are facing a reality right now that no matter where we go all of us will still be breathing this thing,” Umaña told the newspaper.

Last week the Reporter was informed that two teachers had to be rushed to the hospital due to breathing complications. According to reports, students and staff had experienced nausea, vomiting, headache and dizziness. According to Umaña, a solution cannot be reached since there is a small portion of the school’s population that resides near the river and that they are being affected by the smell throughout the night and when they show up for classes they are already sick.

It is not clear how long the school’s emergency plans will remain in effect, and the only all-clear is expected to come from the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Ministries of the Environment and Education. Phase two of the school’s plan is to initiate a shift system with their sister school for afternoon sessions and the last resort will be to relocate its 1,500 students.

According to Deputy Chief Environmental Officer Edgar Eck, ”we had previously advised the general public that the New River is very critical and that any agitation that would have an effect on the river will definitely make the stench come out. Along with it, there might be the possibility of the release of Hydrogen Sulphide. So whenever there is moderate to heavy rainfall that will agitate the river and then the stench would come out, there is no way that we can avoid that.”

The DOE has warned residents that revival of the New River to its natural healthy state could take years, however the recent installation of aerators inside the river has been deemed a success as improvements are already being noted in the quality of the water. In the upcoming days, the Department will be installing additional aerators in various other locations.

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