“I closed shop because I lost all motivation” – Engineer Marco Cremona
By Hermann Micallef
An ambitious water recycling project, which is not only feasible but also needed in Malta, was cold shouldered by the Public Health authorities without a concrete and valid reason being given.
In an interview with Voice of the Workers, Engineer and hydrologist Marco Cremona, the brains behind this project, expressed his disappointment and frustration at, after years of toil, having the project knocked down by officials of the Department of Public Health without a word on why it was being refused point blank.
Marco Cremona is alleging that the authorities were taken aback by his innovative and creative project and would have preferred it if the idea had been put forward by a professional or academic from another country.
Engineer Cremona spoke about the history of this project and the disappointments he experienced along the way. He explained that the project aim was to recycle the water used by hotels. Malta is chock full of hotels and they consume a great deal of water. Marco Cremona explained that the project works and it works so well that it was technologically proven that it could recycle up to 90% of the water used by a hotel. For the initiative to work, the hotel would need to buy in the remaining 10%. Each drop would be used ten times before it went out of the system.
Marco Cremona explained that this project comprises three phases of water treatment. The first phase involves a plant that purifies the sewage to produce second class water, that is, water that is not fit for drinking but can be used to flush toilets and for irrigation. “This process will yield more water than is needed and this water is not wasted but is passed through another process that will yield water that is fit for drinking, although in a hotel this water is not usually used for drinking but is used in showers,” said Marco Cremona, adding that, “quality standards and the regulations call for the water used in showers to be of drinking water quality.” The process, as implemented by Engineer Cremona, makes this technically possible.
Marco Cremona explained that he had obtained €109,000 funding from the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) to carry out research. With these funds he built a prototype that he operated at the Radisson Golden Sands hotel from 2008 to 2009. The Engineer did not embark on this project alone. He teamed up with German specialists who provided the technology, Island Group who offered their site as a testing site and the Department of Public Health.
“When I started contacting people about the necessary permits, doors started being shut in my face.”
“The project was so successful that it was featured on the television station Al-Jazeera”, said Marco Cremona, who added that he had entered the project in an international competition on the CNBC Business Channel. “I was one of three finalists for a €250,000 prize and the competition was aired worldwide through this international television station”, said Cremona.
The Engineer explained how he had developed a business plan which called for a commercial installation in Malta before the project is launched on an international level. “This was so I would have control over the project in Malta as it would be easy to oversee, confirm that all is in order and, should I need to tweak something, I could tweak it”, said Cremona, who added, “I would be able to use it as a showcase so that I would have something to show to foreign investors should they come over.”
Subsequently, from 2011 to 2012, Marco Cremona secured Environment Action funds; funds that are administered by Malta Enterprise. He used these funds to finance a commercial plant. Marco Cremona built the plant, tested it and found that it worked well. This is when he started discussions with the Department of Public Health to secure the permit to use the water. He also signed a contract with the Seabank hotel which was ready to pay him for the water he produced. In fact, this commercial plant was and still is at the Seabank hotel.
“When I started contacting people about the necessary permits, doors started being shut in my face,” said Marco Cremona. Asked to elaborate, Engineer Cremona brought up the example of a borehole where one sells water to a bowser as water which is of drinking quality. “The process is quite simple as all you have to do is fill out a two-page application, take a sample of the water to the laboratory and, if the results show that it is fit for drinking, you are given the licence”.
As one of the partners of the research project was the Department of Public Health and, because this circumstance was outside the norm, Marco Cremona wanted to initiate discussions with the officials of the Department about the testing of the water. He said that in six years, from 2012 to date, he has met with various Superintendents of Public Health, with the directors of Environmental Health and with several Ministers. The first reaction was that, if he were to use this water, his first obligation would be to inform the guests of the hotel that the water is recycled. “This was discriminatory as no hotel in Malta has the obligation to tell its guests where the water it uses is coming from … as long as the water quality meets the standards set by Public Health and Maltese law, which is the same as European law, the water can be used, whatever its source”, said Cremona.
“Engineer Cremona is still without a permit to implement his idea. “
Asked to explain why he thinks he has come across so many obstacles, Marco Cremona said that he does not think that the reasons are either personal or political. After he lodged a number of judicial protests and after struggling to implement this project, Engineer Cremona said that he has reached the conclusion that, although the idea he has developed is innovative for Malta and backed up by the European Commission, the Health Department was too taken aback by it and may have felt that it was unfortunate that this idea had originated in Malta.
“I cannot find any other reason why this has happened”, said Marco Cremona, adding that, “I do not know how often I tested and tried the water, invited officials from the Public Health Department to come to the hotel to test what they wanted, when they wanted, but they never accepted my invitation”.
Over and above this, Engineer Cremona paid for independent certification by independent consultants so that the project is verified by outsiders. Officials from the Department of Public Health commissioned a risk assessment report that verified that the plant produced good quality water. In spite of all this, six years on, Engineer Cremona is still without a permit to operate the plant.
“A Superintendent of Public Health told me ‘why don’t you just take your idea to Germany’?” Marco Cremona said that, “with this idea we could have been at the forefront of technology that is now being introduced all over the world”.
Cremona listed various absurd excuses that he was given by the Public Health authorities. “They told me that they were not going to give me a permit because Malta has a number of alternative sources of water! … as an activist in the field of water not only is this a frivolous excuse but it is an excuse that rubs salt into the wound when they tell me in writing that Malta has a number of alternative sources of water”.
Engineer Cremona has arrived at a cross roads: either take Government to court for damages because of the waste of time and expense, or call it a day. “I have decided to close shop because I have lost all motivation”, concluded Engineer Cremona in a tone of great disappointment.