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Where there’s smoke
For most of the 32 years of the Beetham landfill’s existence, it has been a source of ongoing environmental concern. The site blossomed out of prolonged dumping on the south side of the Beetham Highway, and the mess eventually became formalised into an official site for waste disposal. Since then it has become a financial opportunity, an annoyance to the senses, an ongoing hazard for residents of Beetham Estate and a source of embarrassment to the ecologically concerned among us.
In 2006, an announcement was made that the site would finally be shut down, but that was met by vocal protests by people who make a living scavenging through the tons of rubbish that’s carted to the site every day. There was a temporary closure during the Summit of the Americas in 2009, but that didn’t last, and soon the landfill was open for noxious business again.
Fires at the Guanapo landfill in April 2012 forced the closure of that waste disposal site when smoke rolled through several nearby residences and towns. The effluvia from that blaze and the smoke from last week’s fires at Beetham point to the dangers of these sites, which are far too close to populated areas and continue to grow in hazard potential. Potentially carcinogenic smoke isn’t the only hazard of our waste disposal sites. The Beetham landfill meets few of the requirements of a landfill.
It is not lined and dangerous chemicals are constantly leaching into the earth and from there into the ground water, creating a time bomb of chemical contamination for the ecosystems surrounding the landfill sites. “We do not have landfills in Trinidad, we have dumps,” Stephen Broadbridge, one of the founders of the civil environmental group Trini Eco-Warriors said last week. “This is outdated and irresponsible.” The Ministry of the Environment and the Environmental Management Authority have proven to be at best reactive and at worst dangerously mute on these critical matters. Other hazards are less obvious but also lethal.
In January 2009, six men were held by police with rotting meat and vegetables they had scavenged from the Beetham landfill which they were accused of planning to sell. In January 2013, a man believed to be a scavenger at the landfill was knocked down at night after what was believed to be a late night sortie to the site. Why this problematic site hasn’t been dealt with before has a lot to do with the way we handle garbage in Trinidad and Tobago. Any plan to close the Beetham site, which along with the landfill at Guanapo is at capacity, must be matched by a greater commitment to recycling at source. A nationally mandated strategy for recycling can reduce rubbish reaching any new site by more than 50 per cent.
There’s little question that the Beetham landfill is a serious problem that demands focused, clear and definitive attention from the government agencies appointed to manage these environmental issues.
That hasn’t happened and it’s long overdue.
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