toxic danger: Smoke drifts towards the capital city of Port of Spain last Wednesday. The smoke has been rising out of the Beetham landfill since Sunday last, where about a dozen fires flared up and which the Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (SWMCOL) has said appear to be “man made”. —Photo: anisto alves

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Time to cap the Beetham landfill

 Well it took the authorities over half a century to finally wake up and smell the fumes! 

It took a toxic blitz like the London fog or a Beijing situation to finally close the nation’s largest dump when people’s lives are finally threatened. Whose bright idea was it to locate the nation’s largest dump and rum distillery upwind from the major city? 

A closed landfill continues to emit toxic gases for the next 50 years as waste products decompose. 

The Beetham is more than a landfill; it’s a hazardous waste site because industrial waste over the decades have been dumped unchecked, together with old batteries, tyres, plastics, coated metals, used oil and increasingly, electronic waste.  

Landfill gas (LFG) consists primarily of greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (70 per cent), methane (20 per cent) and the rest a combination of hazardous air pollutants mainly: ethane, carbon monoxide, toluene, propanol, xylene, hexane, and hydrogen sulfide. 

LFG is compounded by fires that burn plastics, coated paper, textiles, treated wood, and rubber products that spew a plethora of toxic fumes such as dioxins, mercury, lead, and other contaminated dust. 

These LFG pollutants in combination with industrial and traffic fumes create a toxic soup that can cause vicious headaches, skin and eye irritation, coughing, asthma, irritability, sleeplessness, and lethargy. 

Long-term deleterious effects include birth defects, cardio-pulmonary diseases and many types of cancer.

The landfill should be moved to a more remote location where population is not at risk and should be lined with an impervious layer such as clay to prevent leaching of contaminants into ground water. 

The Beetham landfill should be capped immediately, either with clay or asphalt, and recapped with top soil and grass. 

Frequent “wet downs” of the surface area should reduce entrained toxic dust from enveloping the city. Vent pipes should be installed to collect and flare the gas and better yet, a gas recovery system for recycling the gas for industrial use. 

The capped landfill can be landscaped as they do in North America—create open space, parks, baseball fields, and golf courses. Most of the cricket fields around New York are located on closed landfills. This is also a wake-up call for the authorities to develop a national recycling programme. 

The people play the most vital part as the three Rs should be heeded: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle—so that landfill waste can be drastically reduced, hence preventing further degradation of the air, water and land.

Kenneth Santlal, 

Air Quality Planner, Boston, MA

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