Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Parliament staff member collapses

A Parliament staff member collapsed on the job at Tower D of the International Waterfront Centre in Port of Spain yesterday, as a result of smoke lingering in the capital city from a fire that has been smouldering in the Beetham landfill for most of the week.

Eyewitnesses said the female employee collapsed around 11 a.m. and had to be rushed to Port of Spain General Hospital, where she was placed under a nebuliser, a machine used to deliver drugs directly into the lungs of persons experiencing certain respiratory difficulties.

The public servant, who was said to have had existing respiratory issues, sits in an area of Tower D that faces downtown Port of Spain and is also near to the entrance that leads to Wrightson Road.

The doors of the entrance are constantly being opened and closed, allowing smoke and exhaust-laden air into the building.

Checks in the city yesterday showed that many businesses, including One Caribbean Media (OCM), parent company of the Express, which is based on Independence Square, had issued advisories to employees to remove themselves from the situation if they found their health being affected by the smoke.

Some pharmacies reported a slight increase in the sales of masks, inhalers used by asthmatics, and over-the-counter medication for clearing congestion.

In addition to more than a dozen schools remaining shut, after dismissing pupils early on Wednesday, the National Library and Information System Authority (Nalis) also closed its doors yesterday due to smoky conditions.

National Petroleum in Sea Lots was another casualty for most of the week and the company issued a statement yesterday, saying that while employees were once again forced to vacate the premises due to lingering smoke, a contingency plan has been put in place to ensure the delivery of fuel.

Yesterday marked day five of a fight against up to a dozen fires inside the Beetham landfill, with an update from Solid Waste Management Company Limited (Swmcol) that “significant” progress had been made and one of two remaining fires has been extinguished.

The pair of fires were the most deeply established of the lot that cropped up on Sunday and had been smouldering and releasing heavy smoke since then.

In a report sent Wednesday to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), Swmcol stated that its own preliminary investigations had suggested that the fires were “man made”.

While residents of the Beetham community, located opposite the landfill, have denied involvement, the fires began last Sunday following the shooting that morning of a resident by police.

In spite of the progress reported by Swmcol, unfavourable winds in the past two days had brought the smoke into the city, forcing schools and business places to shut down for a second day.

Wednesday brought a heavy presence of smoke into Port of Spain and while the air remained visibly smoky for most of yesterday, winds later in the evening cleared some of it.

After reporting Wednesday that the air quality in Port of Spain and environs had degenerated to a level that was considered “unacceptable” according to the draft Air Pollution Rules (APR), the EMA assured citizens yesterday that conditions had stabilised.

The EMA had reported that tests showed the particulate composition (suspended particles) of  air in the city and surroundings had in some parts reached to 13 times past the acceptable level and was of “grave concern”.

More tests yesterday, some of them conducted on the Brian Lara Promenade, showed a stabilisation of air quality, said the EMA. However, it continues to monitor the situation.

The Beetham landfill has remained closed, as per the instructions of the EMA, and will likely be kept closed until the remaining fire is brought under control, said Swmcol chairman Nalini Sooklal.

The fire has been described by the various State agencies handling the problem as a “sub-surface” fire that has continued to smoulder deep beneath layers of compacted waste.

The Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service was initially unable to control that fire as it sat on the edge of an area that was fairly impassable to Fire Service and other vehicles.

Progress was made in the past two days, however, and large amounts of sand have been among the materials being used to starve the fire of oxygen.

According to the EMA, tests are used to determine particulate matter in the air, where the size of the particles of certain substances affect the more vulnerable in the population.

This matter includes Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which can be carcinogenic or cancer causing, carbon monoxide (that can bring on asphyxia) and sulphur dioxide, the EMA said. 

“The EMA wishes to advise the public that air quality tests conducted indicate that these components mentioned above are at a safe and acceptable level (in accordance with the EMA’s draft Air Pollution Rules) within the Port of Spain area at this time,” the Authority stated.