Monday, February 19, 2018

Landfill closed

Fire burning since last Sunday...

THE Beetham Landfill will remain closed until the authorities can bring under control a fire still burning at the site since last Sunday, which the Solid Waste Management Company Limited has reported as being “man made”.

Reports that the landfill is now to be shut down for good are erroneous, Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL) chairman, Nalini Sooklal, said yesterday but she also said talks will continue with the relevant agencies on finding a better long-term solution to waste disposal.

Sooklal, speaking to the Express via telephone, said while permanent closure of the ‘dump’ is likely to happen in the future, a workable alternative must first be available.

The temporary shut down was on the advice of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), which found air quality in the capital city and environs to be poor and of “grave concern” yesterday, as wind conditions that previously assisted in clearing the city had changed and instead flooded Port of Spain with more smoke.

The EMA has advised SWMCOL to divert garbage disposal to its other sites at Guanapo and Forres Park so that efforts could be concentrated on putting out what the agencies said was the last of up to a dozen fires started on Sunday.

With several updates provided by the EMA and SWMCOL yesterday, the public has been assured that the situation is expected to be under control in a short time.

One such joint update stated:

“The EMA has received from SWMCOL a report on the state of the fires which suggests that the fires were not spontaneous but man made in nature.”

The EMA has in the meantime disclosed that tests conducted at several sites have shown air quality to have been in violation of the Draft Air Pollution Rules (APR). That legislation, however, is yet to be put in place.

“Air quality tests were conducted at three sites yesterday near Sea Lots, downtown Port of Spain and near the Foreshore,” the EMA stated.

“The air quality tests measured the amounts of particulates in the air. Particulates refer to particles suspended in the atmosphere, and can remain suspended for long periods where they are a key component of air pollution and smog.

“Readings for the total volume of particulates in the air were measured against the standards outlined in the Draft Air Pollution Rules (APR) (2013) by the EMA. The test conducted at the site closest to the source of the smoke near Sea Lots revealed that the particulates present in the atmosphere were more than 13 times the limit of the Draft APR.

“The test conducted in downtown Port of Spain revealed readings more than 10 times the limit, and the test conducted near the Foreshore (the test site furthest from the source) revealed readings more than twice the limit.

“Based on the above readings, the EMA expresses grave concern for the impact of the particulates on human health as the readings are well above the acceptable standard of 150 µg/m³/24 hr, and will continue its air quality monitoring with tests until levels have normalised.”

“Particulates” affect the environment as it contributes to greenhouse gases, and affects human health as they can they easily reach the deepest recesses of the lungs leading to respiratory ailments, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

While wind conditions were on Tuesday described as “favourable” by the EMA, chairman Dr Allan Bachan, speaking with the Express yesterday, said this had changed and high winds blowing into the city brought smoke in, where it had been directed out to sea the day before.

Motorists entering and leaving the city are still advised to employ caution on the Beetham highway, where the smoke remained thick for much of yesterday morning, reducing visibility.

Addressing questions from the public on why the ‘bambi’ bucket, used last year to fight a series of fires in the landfill, was not brought in again this time around, Bachan said:

“The approach with the bambi buckets was not successful last year. The smoke emanating from the fires impaired visibility for the helicopters and the heat was also too much for the craft.”

Bachan said the most effective way to deal with the current problem of a deeply smouldering fire was to stifle with fill material.

“Water will only deal with the surface, while the material will continue to smoulder underneath, so covering it is best,” Bachan said. —Kim Boodram