OSH Matters

Growing interest in Occupational Safety and Health

What’s Going On With Our Country’s Sewage System?

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It’s 2015 and a faulty sewer or septic system is the Achilles heel of schools nationwide. Almost every year it makes headline in our daily newspaper, children have been sent home early yet again, due to sewer related problems. We were able to find articles which fully supported our claim while taking a look back on the Trinidad’s history of poor sewage accommodations, for instance:

“Sewer Stench Sickens 12 StudentsLara Pickford- Gordo; The Newsday, 2009.

Students of El Dorado North Hindu School

Photo 1: Students of El Dorado North Hindu School

Concerned residents protesting

Photo 2: Concerned residents protesting

This particular article stated that, “Classes were suspended half-day yesterday at the El Dorado North Hindu School because the stench from a nearby sewage treatment plant overwhelmed several school children and teachers.” According to a school official, the problem stemmed from a faulty pipe leaking raw sewage which was the catalyst for the foul odor. This inevitably led to severe ailments of students and teachers which caused vomiting and nausea. Additionally, not only does the sewage issue affect students attending schools but also residents in the surrounding areas.

We also got firsthand experience in light of the situation as one of the members of OSH avengers was a past student of El Dorado North Hindu, where she outlined that there were countless problems faced by staff and students, one being having to endure the stench of raw sewage from a nearby sewage treatment plant. It was unbearable. Every day they went to school hoping that it will stop; maybe the owner will be considerate. However, that was not the case. It persisted for months and they all complained. The PTA held protests in hope that something will be done and it did work – for a while. Not long after, the scent came lingering back to them. It went on for years, constantly coming and going. The stench made students fall sick. It made them uncomfortable and almost impossible to concentrate. Classes were disrupted and school was dismissed early on innumerable occasions. Her aunt now resides near the school and the treatment plant and there are times when she visit only to realize that the stench of sewage still lingers around. It seems as though not much has been done yet no one is taking further action to eliminate the problem.

 


“…the soak-away system at the school usually overflows…”  Orlando Nagessar told reporters.  – Cecily Asson; The Newsday, 2011.

In addition, this article posted November 2, 2011 stated that Chaguanas Government Primary School had sustained sewer problems for eight (8) years preceding the publication. Works and Infrastructure Minister at the time, Mr. Jack Warner, told the media that the sewer problems that hampered the school’s productivity would have been permanently rectified that week. Sources stated that the school’s sewer system was built to accommodate only five hundred (500) students and by November of 2011, over eight hundred (800) students had been registered, therefore placing pressure on the system put in place. However, skipping ahead to October of 2014, almost three (3) years after promises to rectify the sewer problems at the school were made; parents of students attending Chaguanas Government Primary School were now forced to look at the school’s Facebook page to know whether or not to send their children to school.

 


“Protests, sickness reports at schools.”  – Anonymous; The Newsday, 2014.

Written only last year (2014) this specific article addressed the continuing issue of sewage present in our nation’s schools. Concern was raised when students of Princes Town East Secondary School suffered conditions such as skin and eye irritations due to contact with waste and sewage rudiments. Students also encountered the occurrence of wooziness and light headedness because of the nauseating stench surrounded by the school’s environment. The circumstances also resulted in teachers leaving the school’s compound due to its pitiable and unsanitary conditions. As concerned citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, it is our duty to protect and safeguard our country by asserting immense effort in reducing the level of sewage in our homes and evidently in the nation’s schools.

 


“When the toilets are flushed it backs up in some areas and overflows in other toilet areas and washroom facilities.” – Lynsley Doodhai (2nd Vice President of TTUTA); The Guardian, 2014.

Moreover, in February 2014, the parents of pupils attending the Princes Town Methodist Primary School refused to send their children to school because of a sewer problem. Subsequently, this led to teachers to avoid attending the school due to their concern about their health and safety.  As a consequence of the irregular up keeping of the sewage systems within the nation’s schools, the education of the country’s next generation of leaders is being compromised.

 


“Smelly sewer problem at Debe High School” –Anonymous; Daily Express, 2015.

Furthermore, showing evidence through the use of articles, the most recent case of sewage or septic issues occurred at Debe High school on February, 2015. The issue of having a sewer system that is exposed, smelly or even a sewer system that is leaking can be very dangerous as it can cause so many illness for those that are around or exposed to such systems. The Monday after this incident occurred school was closed, the Ministry of Education officials stated that the sewer problem at the Debe High School was being taken care of by the National Maintenance, Training and Security workers. They also stated that the schools were carded to resume as normal. However, this was not the case, the staff members of the school reported that the problem still existed and was affecting the health of both the students and all of the staff members. It was even reported that some of the students and staff had fallen ill and they required medical attention. Some may say that the school did not need to be shut down for a sewer problem as they could have simply just clean the sewer systems and then resume school.

 


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ASSOCIATED RISKS

Essentially, exposure to sewage is not a situation to be taken lightly; it is a cause for major concern, as it threatens the well-being of everyone unprotected from it.  The public health and environmental implications of sewage overflows are tremendous and contributes a lot of damage towards most schools in the nationwide. It is easy to construe from the minimal readings presented in these past articles that these institutions run a very high risk for biological and chemical hazard.

BIOLOGICAL HAZARDS

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When we think of biological hazards, what comes to mind? Basically, harm that affects our body, not so? Evidently, biological hazards can transpire from the exposure of raw sewage via contact with human matter such as saliva, blood, human tissue and human cells. It poses a threat to us and also living organisms. Sewage contaminates our waters with pathogens, excess nutrients, hefty metals, and a few other toxins. It destroys our beautiful aquatic life and creates algal blooms that can stifle fisheries. In another worst case scenario, sewage transmits pathogens that can reach into our schools drinking water supplies and swimming zones. This is enormously hazardous for the students and precautions must be implemented to avoid this from happening. Obviously, these disease-causing microorganisms are the root of the problem to cause diarrhea, respiratory, vomiting, hepatitis, dysentery, and other diseases. The most severe viral risk is hepatitis and the most serious bacterial risk is tetanus. Common illnesses caused by swimming in and drinking
untreated or partially treated sewage include gastroenteritis. These infections can seriously compromise the health and safety of the students and also affect their bright futures. It results in high levels of absenteeism and failure to perform well as they are not focused 100% due to all these fatal illnesses. Also, the unbearable stench from the sewage distracts students and inevitably, the teachers which interrupt vital class time. It hampers the progress of the schools syllabus as it is difficult to concentrate or even be present at the school when this happens. Actions should be put in place to rectify this situation as in today’s society; education is the most prominent in students’ lives.

CHEMICAL HAZARDS

In addition to biological hazards, chemical hazards also pose danger to students. The source of chemical hazard stems from inhalation and body contact. Inhalation is the major route for chemicals or organisms to enter the body. In a school environment, being in small confined areas such as cclassrooms, the nature of chemical risks increases. Undersupplied oxygen becomes a real risk due to organic oxidation and displacement by carbon dioxide resulting from toxic gases being dispersed from raw open sewage. As young developing minds are exposed to these combinations of unbreathable gases, their health can be at serious risk. For example, one gas present in open sewage is, Hydrogen Sulfide, as a result, respiratory and nervous system effects can occur from inhaled chemical and organisms. Also, the threat of having flammable gases is also a reality, as sewage contains a number of potentially flammable and deadly gases if exposed for long periods of time.

Furthermore, skin contact is another passage for chemicals as chemicals can be absorbed through the skin from contact of waste water or raw sewage. As it enters your blood stream, the potential for danger increases exponentially, as this is a much faster route for chemicals to harm the body. As young children and adults are exposed to these forms of chemical hazards from sewage for long periods of time, then chronic and long-term illnesses may present itself later in the future. Hence, control measures should be implemented as it is the main duty of school boards or headmasters as well as, the local government to take upon as part of their responsibility of being in charge.

Once risks are prevalent protocol would always suggest taking all necessary steps to mitigate all hazards that could possibly occur.  If not rectified immediately faulty sewage and septic systems can become very problematic as we can see from the hazards it exposes individuals to. The risk of sewer and septic inconsistencies violates Part VI (Health); and Part VII (Welfare) of the Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) Act. As far as health is concerned, this situation imposes on the cleanliness, respiratory protection and ventilation allotted to individuals; as well as their welfare in terms of compromised drinking water, sanitary conveniences and proper restrooms and lunchrooms.

Photo 3: Sewage Run-Off

Photo 3: Sewage Run-Off

CAUSES OF SEWAGE ISSUES

Who is it to blame for sewage in the country. Is it the citizens or the government? However, it is not about who’s at fault. It is about rectifying the situation firsthand. The reason for sewage may stem from:

  • Excess or overspill from a sewer collection system. It may also occur when there is release of raw or moderately treated sewage within a specific area.
  • Flooding also leads to excessive sewage. Our country is often faced with flooding due to poor infrastructure of drainage. This therefore increases the pressure of any sewer system and causes it to be backed up or blocked.
  • Additionally, an old or cracked sewer may pose a serious danger towards sewage. It heightens the occurrence and severity of overflows thus destroying our nation’s environment. Also, when the public or private sewer lines are broken, this increases the chance of sewage.
  • Faulty pipes is also a protuberant issue causing sewage in our country. When rainwater gets into these defective pipes, it results in overflows exceeding the ability of the system. This issue should be addressed as this seems to be the main cause of sewage in Trinidad and Tobago.

PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE: RISK REDUCTION STRATEGIES

Throughout this blog, we have been stressing on preventing and executing tactics to make the sewage issue vanish. This can be achieved by doing things in your own home. For example:

  • Using colanders to catch food scrapings and dispose of them into the trash. This decreases the amount of waste that may cause blockage or take longer to break down within the sewage system. This in turn, reduces the overflowing or constriction of drainage systems.
  • Also, in order to combat the prime issue of leakage, broken and obsolete pipes must be replaced or be revamped and it is advisable that maintenance be done frequently. Not even the tiniest bit of sewage related rubbish should stay in the environment and in order to avoid contaminants, some method of engineering may be required.
  • Presently, cracked sewer pipes affects the health of our future generation. It permits untreated waste to enter the soil and produce unhealthy conditions. If someone is aware of this problem in their household, a licensed plumber or inspector should be contacted.
  • One issue that is upsetting is where individuals pour oil or grease down sewer lines. This calls for sewage overflows. One should never pour grease down sink drains or toilets. Instead, one should find alternatives for example, seal grease or oil into a bag or glass jar and let it be disposed of properly.
  • Also, rain water downpipes are not supposed to be connected to the sewerage system. This leads to overflows of diluted raw sewage further down the system. By mitigating this issue, it will aid in reducing the overflow of sewage.
  • Lastly, we found that to help combat the situation of a faulty sewer and septic system a Septic Tank Aeration System can be used. Which simply means an aerator system is used to pump air into the septic tank to help the development of aerator bacteria which in turn, help to break down solids; which need air to survive. Science has proven that aeration breaks down 90-98% of solids at a faster rate as compared to tanks without aeration. By doing this, the septic tank can go up to 12 years without having to be pumped. However, this does not mean that tanks shouldn’t be checked regularly to ensure it is functioning properly.An aeration system is relatively cheap as compared to having to frequently having to hire septic tank cleaning services or having a septic overflow which lead to more problems.
Fig 2: A Simple Aeration System

Fig 2: A Simple Aeration System

Based on our Hierarchy of Controls our first option will always be to eliminate the threat. In this given situation what is inevitably going to happen is the spills and the sewer system are going to be cleaned up. This in essence means the threat has been eliminated; however, the situation is likely to occur again. Regardless if some type of engineering is done, maybe to expand the sewer and septic system, or have the system diverted from being in close proximity to the school. Rainfall cannot be stopped and people are going to continue to choose inappropriate methods of disposing their waste. Therefore, what may be an obvious solution to the issue at hand is education; educating individuals of not only the schools but also neighboring communities on the preventative steps they can take to ease the stress from this challenge that affect them more than others.

Hierarchy of Control

Hierarchy of Control

In conclusion, OSH Avengers has clearly sketched a pretty good picture on the raving issue of sewage present in the schools of the nation, Trinidad and Tobago. Past experiences were brought to attention to provide evidence for how imperative it is to address the issue of sewage in certain areas. Preventative methods were also given in order to combat sewage, and also causes were outlined in order to avoid the issue of sewage. When we really think about it, not only does sewage affect our students but also everyone generally. It destroys our nation’s land, environment and essentially this affects our daily lifestyle a great deal, even if you do not recognize it. It is without a doubt therefore, that more focus and concern should be placed on the fatal issue of sewage in Trinidad and Tobago.

 


 

REFERENCES:

“Biological Hazards.” Comcare. Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <http://www.comcare.gov.au/preventing/hazards/biological_hazards>.

“Google.” Google. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=risk+management+quotes&tbm=isch&tbs=simg:CAQSjAEaiQELEKjU2AQaAggKDAsQsIynCBpiCmAIAxIongOgA8gInAO_1CLoIrQjHCJ0DxAjuM_1Yz1jTVNMQn7TOHOPIzzz3MPRowkuOG3WYg2UnbokT14BGLG4u8XnDlmoncr_1mamPJpk7UwtOl7nSoDGRRyLSKpjYQYIAIMCxCOrv4IGgoKCAgBEgSKMaVCDA&sa=X&ved=0CBoQwg4oAGoVChMInr2QqYe2yAIVSZceCh1BpgiV&biw=1600&bih=799#imgrc=gtuFjFxjA2RZUM%3A

“Prevent Sewage Pollution in Your Neighborhood.” Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <https://www.commonfloor.com/guide/prevent-sewage-pollution-in-your-neighborhood-2534.html>.

“Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday : Newsday.co.tt : Hotline.” Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday : Newsday.co.tt : Hotline. Web. 9 Oct. 2015.

“Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday : Newsday.co.tt :.” Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday : Newsday.co.tt :. Web. 9 Oct. 2015.

Photo 1: Pickford-Gordon, Lara. “Sewer Stench Sickens 12 Students.” Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday : Newsday.co.tt :. The Newsday, 12 Mar. 2009. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. http://www.newsday.co.tt/business/0,96532.html

Photo 2: Fraser, Mark. “Parents Protest over Poor Conditions at Rio Claro School.” Trinidad Express Newspapers:. Trinidad Express Newspaper, 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. . http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/Parents-protest-over-poor-conditions-at-Rio-Claro-school-241567281.html

Photo 3: “The Water Network | by AquaSPE.” The Water Network | by AquaSPE. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. https://thewaternetwork.com/post-FfV/metal-firm-dumped-sludge-waste-illegally-KDxi4fDHaKriKGHxFXgT4w

Figure 1: “Google.” Google. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. https://www.google.com/search?sa=G&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbs=simg:CAQSjAEaiQELEKjU2AQaAggBDAsQsIynCBpiCmAIAxIojQiMCLMTsROwE7ITkxPhCOIIrROvPq0-rD6oPq4-0j-nPtQ2tz6UNxowIrU5jXpvpOoxDnkrQUh99HpL6lt8uHVu1iw4o7NFOrWhj5KszgbfrtkC8YkB97DZIAIMCxCOrv4IGgoKCAgBEgSulwtdDA&ved=0CBoQwg4oAGoVChMI0N-Z6Ie2yAIVRm0eCh1S0g5r&biw=1600&bih=755#imgrc=xKkEAFbGDY2a4M%3A

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4 thoughts on “What’s Going On With Our Country’s Sewage System?

  1. One of the things a good OSH practitioner does is look at trends. This article shows how sewage problems have been recurring in T&T’s education system, negatively affecting our teachers and the even more vulnerable students (younger persons would be less likely to discern hazards and also are likely to be more severely affected by exposure to toxins due to lower tolerance levels).
    Biological and chemical hazards are the biggest concerns, but do not rule out physical hazards that result from sewage overflows. Also, do you think the lowest level of the Hierarchy of Control (PPE) would have a role to play if there is a sewage overflow in our schools?

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    • It is without a doubt that chemical and biological hazards are the most imminent when it comes to sewage problems. Physical hazards come into play as well. They are referred to as factors within the environment that can harm the body without necessarily touching it. It includes noise, vibration, extremes of temperature and radiation. More importantly it includes slip trip and fall, electrical fire and cut. Sewage overflows in schools may cause children to slip and fall really severely which can cause harm to their bodies. It may cause cuts and bruises or a sprained ankle for example. When blood is involved from those cuts, the filthy water comes into contact with it and can result into the diseases and sickness as mentioned in the blog. More so, a fire hazard creation can also transpire. The grubby and grimy water from sewage overflows can seep into areas where electrical wiring runs, where any openings in the wire’s insulation can make contact with water, creating sparks and thus causing a fire. This can be tremendously dangerous and hazardous for our students to witness.
      In addition, the lowest level of the Hierarchy of Control (PPE) would most definitely have a part to play if there are sewage overflows in our schools. If this problem unfortunately befalls, workers and janitors would be required to clean up the mess. This is where personal protective equipment (PPE) is obligatory. These employees must wear proper coveralls to avoid contact with the water such as gloves, masks to cover up from inhaling the smell, proper footwear, hard hats and wearing full body suits to protect their skin. This will minimize the exposure of the filthy water from sewage overflows. Also, I think it is vital for staff members at schools to ensure students are wearing safe footwear and try to minimize their contact with the water as much as they can. By monitoring them, may reduce the risk of slip, trip and fall and also hazardous incidences as well.

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      • Do you think gases are hazards related to sewage problems in schools? Which gases? And what would your risk assessment involve?

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      • Sewer gas is a complex mixture of toxic and non-toxic gases that can be present at varying levels depending upon the source. It is formed during the decay of household and industrial waste. Highly toxic components of sewer gas include hydrogen sulphide and ammonia. Sewer gas also contains methane, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide. In addition to, chlorine bleaches, industrial solvents (which may be found in household products) and gasoline in public and privately owned sewage treatment systems.
        Methane and hydrogen sulphide are risk factors for fire hazards, as these gases are flammable, asphyxiating or even explosive; depending on the concentration levels of the gas fire hazards can be easily initiated. Hazards associated with these gases can also be classed as either chemical or biological hazards. Hydrogen sulphide, is the most prominent and well known, maybe not by name but definitely by its smell. Hydrogen sulphide is a colourless gas described as smelling like rotten eggs, which is adamant with any sewage or septic spill. Symptoms of acute exposure include nausea, headaches, delirium, tremors, convulsions, and skin and eye irritation; some of which we came across while conducting our investigation. Gaseous poisoning can also be caused by ammonia, this can affect an individual both internally and externally from their skin to their nervous system. Similarly, methane poisoning is also of concern and its symptoms can be just as severe as the gases stated before. All it takes for chemical contamination to occur is inhalation, and more than likely a pungent smell would not be reason enough to dismiss school. Therefore, students, teachers and other members of staff would suffer from prolonged exposure; this is until a sewage and septic spill actually occurs. Reality being, only when the worst case scenario occurs we can count maintenance to put in place the proper procedure to eliminate any “potential” threats.
        Fundamentally, a risk assessment is an in-depth look at a particular occupational setting to identify the situations that may cause harm to individuals. Overall the first goal is to find and record the possible hazards present. Identifying the hazards due to the sewage issue will essentially be biological, physical and chemical hazards. Secondly, risk assessments analyses who might be harmed. In this case it is the students, teachers and other staff members at schools. They might be harmed due to slip trip and fall accidents, nausea from the repulsive smell, diseases and skin irritations just to name a few. Thirdly, evaluating the risk levels of the sewage problem comes into play. Conducting a risk rating on how likely and how severe these incidents may occur contributes to step 3. For example the severity of a slip trip and fall incident may differ from minor illnesses due to the nauseating smell. Ranking or prioritizing hazards is a unique way to help determine which hazard is the most serious and thus which hazard to control first. Risk levels are done by ranking from very likely, likely, unlikely and very unlikely. In addition, when establishing potential severity of the harm, information about the relative work activity should entirely be considered together with parts of the body likely to be affected and nature of the harm
        Fourthly, risk assessments encompasses implementing risk controls. Once the top priorities have been established, focus must be placed on how to address those risks. Each hazard may be controlled by introducing various methods. In the specific case of sewers being the concern, emphasis should be placed on fixing sewer pipes (infrastructure) to combat the issue, administrative controls to put necessary actions and precautions for the safety of the kids and lastly, employees and janitors must ensure the environment is well kept to the best of their ability and also make use of protective personal equipment. The schools administration must evaluate whether the existing precautions are sufficient or if additional measures are necessary.
        In addition, it is of grave importance to record the risk assessment findings. The records would allow to see whether a good hazard review was conducted, determined the risk of the hazards and implemented control measures suitable for the risk. In final, risk assessment entails continuously reviewing and revising the risk assessment. It is vital to know whether it was complete and accurate. It is good practise to review the risk assessment on a regular basis to ensure nothing has been changed for the worse and that control methods are undoubtedly effective.

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