Saturday, December 16, 2017

Landfill smoke hinders drivers


hazy in the city: The scene on South Quay, Port of Spain, yesterday afternoon, as smoke from a fire at the Beetham landfill formed a blanket over the capital city. —Photo: AYANNA KINSALE

Mark Fraser

The haze that remained over Port of Spain yesterday was acrid though light but on the Beetham Highway, motorists struggled to see ahead as the Solid Waste Management Company (SWMCOL) continued to fight a Beetham landfill blaze that started on Sunday.

This followed another small blaze last Friday, in a different area of the landfill, that  SWMCOL said was extinguished at the weekend. 

The company would not speculate yesterday as to the cause of the fires but said this will be investigated once the current blaze is put out.

The effects of Sunday’s fire were not as severe as had happened in January of this year, when a series of large fires at the landfill saturated the city with smoke for over a week during which the National Petroleum Company (NP) was forced to shut down some operations.

Smoke from the Beetham had also negatively affected NP the previous week, triggering rumours of an LPG gas shortage, which NP denied and the company had stated then it is frequently affected by smoke from the landfill.

In a media statement yesterday, NP advised that “arrangements were in place to ensure the continued delivery of fuel. However, there will be no further sales of lubricants and LPG cylinders from Sea Lots for the reminder of the day”.

Downtown, the smoke was clearly visible and could be detected by the nose but was not as intense as was seen in January.

Yesterday’s smoky situation also led to air quality testing in Port of Spain and at some sites near the landfill by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA).

The EMA later stated in a media release “results revealed that there are no elevated levels of air pollutants”.

It added that “personnel from the San Juan Laventille Regional Corporation, Port of Spain City Corporation, SWMCOL, ODPM, Trinidad and Tobago Fire Services and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Services are liaising with the authority to address this incident”.

The EMA described yesterday’s fire-fighting effort as a “multi-stakeholder” response, starting with an urgent meeting at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) at the National Operations Centre yesterday at 10 a.m., attended by all the relevant agencies.  

“The EMA will vigilantly monitor the situation with continuous air quality monitoring and updates will be provided to the public once further test results are received,” the authority said.

In a status update yesterday afternoon, the SWMCOL stated: “The SWMCOL team continues to work on extinguishing the fire that is at present affecting operations at the Beetham landfill site. 

“To date, they are reporting significant progress and are confident of bringing the situation to a complete resolution during the course of the day today.”

The company also advised the public that due to erratic wind conditions, there might have been periods throughout the day where visibility was affected by smoke emanating from the landfill.

Up to six fires had raged inside the disposal facility for the better part of a week in January.

The EMA, in conducting air quality tests at that time, had found some parts of the city to be showing elevated levels of airborne toxins for a few days.

The SWMCOL yesterday maintained that those fires had been deliberately set in the wake of the shooting of a landfill scavenger on site by a police officer.

“These fires do not appear to be of the same ilk,” the company said yesterday.