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EMA guarded on dangers of landfill fire

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Smoke filtering into the capital city as a result of the recent fires at the Beetham landfill lessened yesterday while the Environment Management Authority (EMA) continues to guard the details of the exact levels of pollutants in nearby areas. The authority yesterday, however, divulged which pollutants were being checked and said the Draft Air Pollution Rules were used as a benchmark for the tests. 



Manager of Emergency Response and Investigation Ria Ramoutar in a telephone interview said the EMA had done air monitoring for the pollutants which it felt would have been most pertinent to the situation. As such, the EMA meters were used to test levels of six of the over 30 substances listed in the Draft Air Pollution Rules, namely ammonia, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen sulphide and volatile organic compounds.



The authority also conducted visual surveillance, paying special attention to “sensitive areas,” such as Laventille, Sea Lots and downtown Port-of-Spain. Despite the fact the EMA was working as part of an inter-agency response team, including the Health Ministry, Fire and Police Services, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and the Port-of-Spain and San Juan Laventille Regional Corporations, specific details of the air-monitoring tests were not shared with these organisations.


“We shared our report with them,” Ramoutar said. Asked if the report included the results of the levels of pollutants, Ramoutar said no. “All of the tests came back with lower levels than the accepted limits provided in the Draft Air Pollution Rules,” he added.



Children, senior citizens at risk—doctor

Paediatrician Dr David Bratt told the T&T Guardian that senior citizens and children were at risk from the smoke in the city and said the EMA should be telling the public the precise levels measured. “Senior citizens (over 65) and children (under 18) are at risk... seniors for heart attacks and bronchitis/pneumonia and premature death,” Bratt said in an e-mail.


He said everyone else were at risk for sinus, ear infections, conjunctivitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, bronchial asthma attacks and disorders of the respiratory tract, manifesting basically in cough, chronic cough, spasms of cough, leading to poor sleep, daytime irritability, especially students. He said pregnant women were especially at risk for premature labour and birth. He said people needed to “stay away from the areas of pollution. 


“Don't send the children to school in Port-of-Spain. Don't go shopping downtown or wear a mask,” he warned. 



SWMCOL responds

Communications manager of the Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (SWMCOL) George Elias said in a telephone interview yesterday  the fires were very close to being completely doused.

 “We are not 100 per cent finished but we are very close. The landfill was reopened on a limited scale today (yesterday),” Elias said. 



Asked whether the EMA had provided SWMCOL, the company responsible for the landfill, with a copy of the air quality reports, Elias said he had not seen the report but assumed they would have done that. While Elias maintained that an investigation into the cause of the fire had not been completed, he said investigations had revealed they had been deliberately set. That supports statements by Environment Minister Ganga Singh on Tuesday that the fires were deliberately set.


However, he said, the motive for the fire remained under further investigation. The company dismissed suggestions that SWMCOL stood to benefit from fires at the Beetham landfill and said Central Government was  discussing proposals to improve management of the site.



The Draft Air Pollution Rules state the following maximum permissible limits in milligrams (mg) for the pollutants measured.
• Sulphur dioxide: 500. 
• Carbon monoxide: 1,000.
• Nitrogen dioxide: 500.
• Ammonia: 50. 
• Hydrogen sulphide: 15.
•Volatile organic compound: 20.


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