Concern has been expressed that action has not been taken quickly enough to contain an oil spill which has been spreading across Trinidad’s north-western coast since early yesterday.
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Smoke still but Beetham fires under control
The majority of the 12 fires in the Beetham dump that enveloped surrounding areas in pungent smoke, posing a toxic threat, have been extinguished. The smoke in downtown Port-of-Spain had significantly cleared yesterday but there was a lingering stench in the air and inside office buildings. The offices of National Petroleum, very close to the site, was still badly affected by smoke and remained closed for a second day. Communications specialist Rae Gilbert said workers were sent home around lunchtime.
Gilbert said there were no complaints of illnesses from staff but management made the decision as a preventative measure. She said since the fires, NP had been operating out of its Point-a-Pierre bond and would continue until the smoke left the Sea Lots headquarters. T&T Unified Teachers Association president Devanand Sinanan said from reports he had received all affected schools had resumed classes.
A Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (SWMCOL) bulletin yesterday afternoon said work at the Beetham landfill continued on a limited scale. The release added: “We are pleased to report that the majority of the fires previously reported have now been extinguished and our team continues to press ahead in its efforts to put out the final two affected areas. “We are, however, unable at this time to project just how soon we anticipate this task will be accomplished.”
SWMCOL communications specialist Alison Awai said the company’s efforts had significantly alleviated the smoke problem in Port-of-Spain and environs. “We will continue to update the public as progress is made towards our ultimate goal,” she added. She said the first phase of air quality testing by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) had been completed and a second was expected to be done yesterday.
EMA communications specialist Nicole Bachan said it had the results of the first air quality test and promised to send it to the media soon.
No EMA advisory
Efforts to get comments from EMA head Dr Allan Bachan and other board members about the authority’s exact role in the incident were unsuccessful. Former CEO Dr Joth Singh said the EMA’s role was to test the air and that involved working closely with SWMCOL and doing site visits in the burning areas to determine what compounds were combusting. He said some kind of health advisory should have been sent out to residents and people working in Port-of-Spain and environs.
“The advisory should have stated whether they should work shorter hours, whether air-conditioning units should be turned off,” he added. Environmentalists have warned that smoke from burning landfill sites could contain toxic cancer-causing carcinogens but contacted for a response, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said dismissively: “It’s just smoke. “The smoke will irritate your lungs and chest and people with high respiratory problems should stay out of the area but there is no need for an advisory.”
Khan said the greater concern was why the fires occurred all of a sudden like that, implying there might have been an agenda behind it.