Ernie Niemi and Dr. Patrece Charles
A study released Thursday has estimated that impacts from the bauxite industry could be costing Jamaica as high as US$18 billion per year.
The estimate, which is based on the effects of harmful airborne pollutants and carbon emissions, is contained in the multi-disciplinary review of the sector titled Red Dirt, released by the Jamaica Environment Trust.
One of the authors of the study, Ernie Niemi, said just three of the air pollutants from the industry result in health costs totalling at least $3 billion per annum, which is three times the value of the extracted mineral.
However, Mr. Neimi noted that it is hard to estimate the full extent of the economic costs because of a lack of data.
"We don't have information to quantify all of the other different ways in which the bauxite/alumina industry imposes costs on the people of Jamaica, and in terms of the impacts on climate change, the costs that they impose on people around the world. The information that we do have, however, indicates that the cost may be as high as $13 billion a year - that is to say much, much, much larger than the value of the bauxite and the alumina," he disclosed.
The social costs resulting from the industry's annual emissions of carbon dioxide are between US$800 million and US$6.5 billion.
The issue of the cost of bauxite versus the benefit has been a topic of discussion in recent weeks, particularly amid debate about mining in the vicinity of the Cockpit Country.
There is a call for the government put in place a mechanism for tracking the health impact of bauxite mining on residents of communities where the activity takes place.
The study notes that the government has failed to take adequate steps to track or investigate the impacts of the bauxite-alumina industry on public health over the industry's almost 70 years.
It said despite long-standing community concerns, the government provided researchers with only one Health Impact Assessment.
One of the authors of the study, Dr. Patrece Charles, said data is needed to determine the real impact of mining, especially on the health of residents in communities that are associated with factories.
"I am putting forward that recommendation for that ecological study, but for more sustainable progress, more sustainable development, I think that that public health tracking system will be an important factor," she said.