Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lose Beetham landfill; gain clean air for capital

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Mark Fraser

 It is shameful and scandalous that life and business in and around the capital should continue to be held hostage to mismanagement and misbehaviour connected with the Beetham landfill. After that nightmarish episode last January, when fires at the site beclouded the Port of Spain area causing atmospheric pollution led to closed schools and businesses, all concerned and affected were thought to have sworn: never again.

Well, something like it happened again last week, as fires raged uncontrollably, producing haze, smoke, smog, to poison the air and generally depress livability. Such outcomes are as wholly intolerable as they felt, when endured in January.

As comparable distress reprieved itself in May, the Beetham landfill profiled as a real and present danger to sustainably healthful living and working in and around the T&T capital. The national face was rubbed in the reality that the landfill remains defiantly beyond the control and management of agencies and authorities normally subsumed under the term government.

This should be a wake-up call for Swmcol, the State enterprise directly accountable for the collection and safe disposal of Port of Spain’s solid waste, boosted in volume by that from surrounding areas. Other relevant authorities should be regarding the threat of another landfill fire as an urgent mandate for implementing solutions to the dread prospect of an increase in patients with respiratory problems, and a scary threat to those unlucky enough not to make it to health care-giving places.

Last Monday’s mystery blaze, was immediately offensive to human eyes and ears. Yet it was determined by the EMA to represent “no elevated levels of air pollutants”.  

Such findings provide no comfort to the biggest stakeholder of all—the general public—made to endure the questionable environmental conditions marked by smoke and haze and worse. If it looks hazy, obscures the sun and sky, and generally degrades the atmospherics, it has to be bad news, little relieved by scientific findings that underplay supposedly adverse effects. It seems obvious that the capital of Trinidad and Tobago and the Beetham landfill cannot peacefully coexist.  One has to go. Certainly, the status quo cannot be upheld, not so long as mystery protesters retain ability to set fires that state agencies are then heavily tasked to put out. SWMCOL, for want of evidence, appeared last week to backtrack on earlier conclusions that saboteur-types had set the fires. 

Matters are actually made even worse when Swmcol and other agencies are unsure how the fires started. Long-laid plans to close and relocate the landfill, flagged again in January by Planning Minister Bhoe Tewarie, need now to be revisited and implemented.

Meanwhile, Swmcol must, in deeds and no longer just in words, step up enforcement of such rules that exist, governing who may frequent the landfill, and for what purposes.