Government is looking to establish a policy statement on chemical weapons, which will be followed by the requisite legislation to mitigate the threats of chemical hazards to Barbados.
Minister of Environment and National Beautification, Trevor Prescod, made this disclosure this morning at the Radisson Aquatica Resort, while delivering the feature address at the opening of a three-day planning meeting of the Capacity Building Project on Chemical Emergency Response, Planning and Management for the CARICOM Member States which are part of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). It is being hosted by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The main goals of the CWC are to have a world free of chemical weapons and to promote the peaceful use of chemistry.
While addressing the regional and local representatives, Mr. Prescod said the meeting was an opportunity for the CARICOM member states to collaborate to develop and enhance chemical emergency response mechanisms which would be beneficial nationally and regionally.
“Our region, though not generally traders in chemical weapons, needs to take account that the world is a global environment where the risk of terrorism is ever present and therefore we can be susceptible to chemical emergencies through intentional acts or as a result of natural disasters,” he cautioned.
The Minister said the threat posed by chemical weapons was just one of many faced by the region, pointing out that it also had to deal with hurricanes and earthquakes. He noted that these natural events posed direct and indirect threats to human health and the environment.
Citing the floods caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, United States, in 2017, where hurricane waters caused the backup power system to fail at a chemical storage plant, resulting in a fire, the Minister said this example was applicable to Caribbean states.
“Chemicals have many uses within manufacturing and agricultural settings and even within our own homes. These circumstances make chemicals an essential and integral part of life as we know it. As such, there are many areas within our countries where chemicals are stored and used which pose a risk to human health,” he said.
Mr. Prescod assured participants that Government would continue to work on sensitisation efforts to raise awareness about chemicals. He said that to date, the Environmental Protection Department had conducted a public education programme in support of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals; prepared a National Profile of Chemicals Management with support from Strategic Approach to International Chemical Management Mechanism; partnered with the Government of Canada to participate in the international monitoring of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the Global Action Plans under the Stockholm Convention; and evaluated the internal capacity to support POPs analysis as part of the Global Monitoring Plan of POPs, also under the Stockholm Convention.
These efforts, the Minister noted, contributed to updating the Chemical Management Policy and the Chemicals Management Legislation which was being prepared through a grant from the project entitled: Global Environment Facility for Development and Implementation of a Sustainable Management Mechanism for POPs in the Caribbean.
Additionally, Mr. Prescod said that the three-day meeting would bring Barbados one step closer to finalising its National Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Emergency Plan (CBRN), which outlines procedures for the response to emergencies involving chemical weapon agents and other industrial chemicals used within the manufacturing sector.
The draft CBRN plan is being developed through a multi-agency effort, said Mr. Prescod, involving several stakeholders such as the Department of Emergency Management; the Barbados Fire Service; the Royal Barbados Police Force and the Ministry of Health.
He further noted that the completed plan would serve as the basis for the facilitation of training of personnel, equipment procurement, upgrade of laboratory capacity, harmonised response to emergencies and ultimately reduce impacts on the environment and human health.
The Minister thanked OPCW for its assistance over the years, adding that over 60 persons from various agencies had received training through them in the areas of assistance and protection; the transfers regime for the identification of scheduled chemicals by Customs departments; and laboratory skills.