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Beetham fires a wake-up call
Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management CEO Dr Stephen Ramroop yesterday came under fire from environmentalists for saying burning rubbish, including plastic, in back yards could produce similar levels of air pollution to the levels currently being emitted by Beetham landfill smoke. Ramroop made the comment during an inter-agency press conference at the National Operations Centre in Port-of-Spain, as he said people were panicking unnecessarily because the situation at the Beetham landfill was not a disaster, even as smoke from the landfill continued to cover the capital in a cloud of toxic fumes which forced the shutdown of schools, business and government offices for a fourth straight day. “When we light our fires there are more toxins than SWMCOL (Solid Waste Management Company), because they have been doing a marvellous job,” Ramroop said at the press conference. “A disaster is when people are affected, livelihoods are affected or people are injured. This is an environmental hazard that has impacted communities.”
He said to a large extent, people’s lives had not been affected. Environmentalists, however, took issue with those statements. Stephen Broadbridge, of the environmental group Papa Bois Conservation, described them as “scary” and “ignorant.” “We are surrounded with pollution...I don’t know what the health in the country will be like in the future,” Broadbridge said. He said he felt the fire at the Beetham landfill was a wake-up call. “Sometimes human beings need to feel the effects before things happen,” he said. “Burning garbage in backyards is a problem, but how can you compare that to the toxins coming from the Beetham? The fact that he feels that way is the scariest thing.” Broadbridge said there should not even be a landfill at the site because the Government should know better. “The rest of the world is recycling; we are creating an environmental problem. Everything in that dump has value, everything can make money. We are so behind.”
Broadbridge also raised the question of what materials were being placed in the dump. “Who regulates what goes in? What about hazardous waste? “We do not even know what is in the fumes. We don’t know what is being inhaled.”
Environmentalist Marc de Verteuil, also of Papa Bois, said the problem of the pollution from the site was decades old. “It is not a new problem but it is a dangerous matter,” he said. De Verteuil also expressed concern about the information released so far by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA). “The EMA seems to only be measuring particulate matter, which is mostly dust, and they are not measuring the toxins.” He said the smoke contained “dioxins, recognised carcinogens (that) can cause birth deformities and other illnesses.” De Verteuil also highlighted the fact that some plastics contained cyanide, which was being inhaled by the population. He said the EMA was also being disingenuous in referring to the air pollution rules when there was no legislation to support them. “The rules are still a draft...It is duplicitous to act as though we have a permitted level when we have no legislation to deal with this,” de Verteuil said. “The solution is recycling and separation of waste. We can recycle at least 80 per cent of our waste. “We can close down the dumps if we do this and engineer the Forres Park dump to a proper landfill. We are slowly being poisoned. Government needs to implement recycling and waste separation.”