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Students and workers fled Port-of-Spain yesterday as toxic smoke from the Beetham landfill overwhelmed the capital city for the third day. The toxic smoke has been confirmed to be in some cases 13 times over the limit set out in the Draft Air Pollution Rules. The Health Ministry said in a release that the air pollution from the landfill site might be hazardous to health, especially to people who are “predisposed through hypersensitivity conditions such as bronchial asthma and dermatitis.”
In an interview, Health Minister Fuad Khan said he had asked the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) to make preparations, including ensuring that clinics remained open late to treat people affected by the smoke. The release from the ministry advised affected people to go to the nearest hospital or health centre if they developed severe shortness of breath, skin or eye irritation. The Woodbrook and El Socorro Health Centres were designated to remain open until 9 pm.
“There have been reports of people complaining of throat irritation,” Khan said. There were concerns about smoke reaching the hospitals, but he said as most of the hospital rooms were air-conditioned they would not be greatly affected. The acrid smoke spread as far as the Mucurapo Foreshore, and forced 16 schools to send home students before noon yesterday and businesses in the city to close their doors.
Before the end of the day’s first class, students of Success Laventille Secondary School had been sent home and were seen walking in the city. Queen’s Royal College, opposite the Queen’s Park Savannah, also dismissed its students early. Mother of three Susan James was seen standing with her children on Charlotte Street. She said their school had called her to take the children home because they were coughing and responding negatively to the smoke. James’s daughter coughed repeatedly during the interview.
In a release, the Education Ministry said it had given approval for closure of schools affected by heavy smoke emanating from the landfill. President of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association Gregory Aboud described the situation as intolerable and preposterous, likening it to the recent oil spills which affected La Brea and other communities in south Trinidad. “The difference is one is by sea and the other is by air or by wind, but they are both environmental disasters and they are both laden with danger,” he warned.
He said the situation was not new and those in charge were communicating “helplessness.” Last April, 12 fires were set in the same landfill, causing similar distress to Port-of-Spain businesses, residents and commuters. Those fires were eventually put out after several days. Aboud said he also felt Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (SWMCOL) was being badly managed. “Somebody needs to explain how this happened,” he stressed. “This is something that is in everyone’s face.”
Queen’s Royal College
St Joseph’s Convent, PoS
St Rose’s Girls’
St Philip’s Government
Sacred Heart Girls’
Sacred Heart Boys’
St Hilda’s Government
St Ursula’s AC
Moulton Hall Methodist
Signs and symptoms that you are being affected by smoke inhalation:
• Shortness of breath
• Throat irritation
• Soot in airway passages such as nostrils or throat
• Increased secretion of mucus, clear or black
• Hoarseness or noisy breathing
• Swelling and/or constriction of upper airways such as nostrils and nasal passages
• Red, irritated eyes
• Changes in skin colour
• Nausea and vomiting
• Changes in mental status (confusion, fainting, seizures, and coma are all potential complications following smoke inhalation)
If you experience one of more of the above symptoms, you should seek medical care immediately.