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MT 8 May 2016

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maltatoday, SUNDAY, 8 MAY 2016 News 13 JAMES DEBONO THE chemical status of the stretch of coastline between Sliema and Mellieha, which includes most tourism development in the island, has deteriorated substantially over the past decade to the extent that it won't achieve good chemical status by 2021. This emerges from Malta's Sec- ond Water Catchment Plan for the years 2015-2021 presented to the EU commission in April. The chemical status in this stretch of coastline was assessed to be good in 2008. But while its ecological sta- tus has remained good, its chemical status has deteriorated. The body fails to achieve good chemical status due to mercury and PAH contaminants found at levels that exceeded the Environmental Quality Standards on more than one occasion during 2012-2013. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocar- bons, which were found in excess of what is required by EU directives in this part of the coastline, are or- ganic compounds containing only carbon and hydrogen formed dur- ing the incomplete combustion of organic materials such as coal, fos- sil fuel, volcanic activity and petro- leum seeps. PAC result in, reduced reproductive success in fish and may be harmful to human health when contaminated shellfish are consumed. The potential sources of PAH and mercury contamination are not known and still being investigated. Additional monitoring and inves- tigations into the possible sources for such contamination is required according to the report. The neces- sary improvements in the chemical status of the water body cannot be reasonably achieved by 2021 due to the fact that the scale of im- provements required can only be achieved over a longer period of time. Mercury found 3 times higher than allowed Moreover the average mercury annual values registered by all monitoring stations measuring the quality of Maltese coastal waters were about 2-3 folds higher than the Maximum Allowable Con- centration-Environmental Quality Standard as set by EU Directives. Mercury levels also exceeded 2008 levels in all monitoring stations. The document makes it clear that the situation cannot be redressed by 2021. While confirming Malta's "poor chemical status" when it comes to mercury, the report de- scribes mercury as Malta's "only failure" when it comes to the good chemical quality of its coastal wa- ters. In fact when mercury in not con- sidered only three marine bodies, namely the stretch between Slie- ma and Mellieha, the area of the Grand Harbour and Cottonera and the stretch between Xghajra and Marsaskala failed to achieve good chemical status. But when mer- cury is considered the whole island failed to achieve good status. The only risk to human health from mercury contamination comes from consuming large fish such as tuna and swordfish, that would have been in longer con- tact with contaminated water than small fish, and would present a risk to human health from the effects of mercury. Mercury is seen to be a major concern "not only due to its ex- ceedances (of EU directives) but also due to its ubiquitous nature, even in water bodies that are con- sidered to be relatively pristine". According to the report a Mer- cury Management Plan will be investigating potential sources of mercury and potential mitigation measures. The investigation, estimated to cost €50,000, will involve the in- spection of all potential sources of mercury pollution including land- based, air based and transboundary sources. The second stage would be to identify potential measures to miti- gate Mercury contamination com- ing from sources that can be con- trolled from land. According to the report apart from anthropogenic sources of mercury, volcanic activity and geo- logic cinnabar (mercury ore) de- posits are also known to contribute to mercury levels in the environ- ment. "Malta is yet to understand what can be considered to be the natu- ral occurring background level of mercury in the Mediterranean and what could be contributing to in- crements in mercury found in our waters". The report also indicates the Ta' Barkat sewage treatment plant and the Delimara power station as pos- sible sources of the high levels of mercury in Maltese coastal waters. Ship and bilge waste could also be another source. This is because high levels of mer- cury contamination in Malta's sur- face waters occurs not only where there is a high mercury contamina- tion in sediments but also where the mercury concentrations in the sediments were low. However trans-boundary sources could also have a part to play in contributing to the presence of mercury all around Maltese coastal waters. Mercury emission usually oc- curs during the fuel combustion of coal, waste or oil. Municipal sewage discharge can also potentially be a source of mercury contamination in the environment. The atmos- pheric deposition of mercury could also be a main contributor. Chemical deterioration of Sliema to Mellieha coastline Mercury levels found three times higher than allowed by EU directives From livestock farms to villas, permits issued despite objections JAMES DEBONO THE Environment Planning Com- mission has issued permits in five of seven cases involving the conversion of livestock farms into residences, despite the case officer's recommen- dations for refusal. Since 2013 the Planning Author- ity has approved the conversion of seven livestock farms into private residences and refused three others. Ten other applications for the rede- velopment of farms into residences are pending. The applications were approved on the basis of a policy which allows owners to re-develop disused live- stock farms into dwellings if these have been disused for the past ten years. MEPA's rural policy allows it to approve residential development instead of disused farm buildings "which are creating a negative envi- ronmental impact on the site and its surroundings". While only one application for such development was presented in 2013, six were presented in 2014, nine in 2015 and five in 2016. The most controversial case was that involving Roderick Farrugia in Siggiewi, which was approved de- spite the case officer's insistence that there was no sufficient evidence of an operational farm "let alone that it had been disused for 10 years". He said the agricultural directorate's contention only confirmed that the garage was built in a way that made it unviable for use as a farm – which is why the "structure was never used" as a farm. The board confirmed the decision two weeks ago, turning down a request to revoke the permit. The other approved farms were in Gharghur, Mgarr, Zabbar, Naxxar, Zurrieq and Zebbug. Through the new policy a dwelling was approved instead of a 75-square metre poultry farm off Ras il-Gebel in Mgarr. The application was des- tined for refusal because a previous policy approved in 2007 limited re- development to farms which were larger than 150 square metres. But the case officer had insisted that the proposal did not provide for adequate landscaping. The En- vironment Planning Commission overturned this recommendation af- ter the owner agreed to plant indig- enous trees and include a grass block beneath the parking area. A permit in an urban conservation area in Naxxar was approved despite the case officer's insistence that the old building was worthy of preser- vation. But following an inspection of the site, the board decided to ap- prove its demolition. A 150 square metre dwelling in the St Leonard area of Zabbar was approved instead of a 450 square metre disused poultry farm. The development also includes a paved area of 360 square metres, which was deemed "excessive" by the case officer. One of the applications which was turned down was that presented by Mark Gasan in Zebbug, but this ap- plication is being heard again after the Environment and Planning Re- view Tribunal referred the case back to the EPC. The original proposal of two villas has now been downscaled to one villa. Five of these applications were presented by architect Robert Mu- sumeci, who advises the government on planning issues. Two of these per- mits were approved (one despite the case officer's negative recommenda- tion), one was turned down and two are still pending. Three applications were presented by Edwin Mintoff and two by MP and BICC chairman Charles Buhagiar. The stretch of sea between Mellieha (above) and Sliema (below) has high levels of mercury and PAH

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