Jamaica Observer / In the wake of yet another fire at one of the island’s licensed waste disposal sites, the second in as many weeks, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has expressed frustration at what it describes as the decades-old inadequate management and neglect of the facilities. Speaking against the background of a blaze at the Retirement dump in St James on the weekend, which the Government says is suspected to be the work of arsonists, JET argued that recurring fires there and at other State dumps speak to a broader problem of poor management.
“Waste management and public health are urgent priorities requiring expertise, accountability, enforcement, sufficient resources and, most importantly, action,” the group said in a statement.
It argued that: “Retirement, Riverton and the five other licensed dump sites suffer from decades of neglect. None of Jamaica’s dumps are landfills — there is no control of leachate, methane emissions, and only very rudimentary separation. The conditions around, and in some cases on the dump sites, include squatter settlements, animals being kept in unsanitary conditions, people picking waste without protective gear — entirely substandard living conditions.”
The current blaze started on Saturday night. It follows the June 28 fire at the Riverton facility in Kingston.
“Dump fires are a significant source of air pollution and are a public health hazard for those living in close proximity to these sites. [They] are especially dangerous as they can emit dangerous fumes from the combustion of the wide range of materials contained within the dump, inlcuding carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide, volatile organics, dioxins and furans,” JET stressed in a statement to the media yesterday.
The environment protection lobby organisation stressed that proper, effective and efficient solid waste management has been a vexed issue in the country for decades, one on which successive political administrations have failed to take the necessary action.
“Ministries, departments and agencies continue to fail at carrying out their duties at an adequate level in order to protect the health of Jamaican citizens,” the group lamented.
JET said it was therefore calling on the current Administration to take urgent action to bring the Retirement fire under control and take steps to prevent a reccurrence.
Meanwhile, head of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) Audley Gordon has promised that the dump should return to “normal operations” within three days. He reported that the NSWMA has crews on site managing the fire, which started in a gully area on the outskirts of the dump that he said is very difficult to access.
“We are constructing an access road so as to allow the fire and heavy units to put out the blaze. Our team along with the fire department have been working intensely to get to the origin of the fire,” Gordon said.
He explained that as a result of the control efforts, there is a smoke nuisance over sections of Montego Bay, but said he was confident that the fire will be put out shortly.
“We have available several pieces of equipment including a front-end loader, excavator and D9, among others, to manage the situation,” he informed, adding that 100 loads of soil and marl would also be transported to the area to bring things under control.