By RACHAEL ESPINET and MARLENE AUGUSTINE Thursday, January 30 2014
THE Beetham Landfill was ordered closed yesterday as, for the third day in a row, thick clouds of smoke covered Port-of-Spain as fires maliciously set last Sunday at the landfill, continued to burn. Tests revealed that in some parts of the nation’s capital, the toxicity level of the air was 13 times that which is considered safe.
Closure of the landfill was announced by the Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (SWMCOL) which manages the dump. “There is a temporary closure of the Beetham Landfill to refocus all resources on fighting the fire. The EMA has advised that this would be best (course of action),” SWMCOL chairwoman Nalini Sooklal, told Newsday.
Her announcement came even as the thick smog yesterday led to the early closure of at least 16 schools while several businesses also closed early as smoke was too much for proprietors, employees and shoppers to bear.
As the landfill remains closed, all rubbish trucks will be sent to landfill sites at Forres Park in Couva and Guanapo to ensure the continued timely disposal of waste while the authorities continue to deal with fires at the Beetham landfill.
On Sunday, 12 fires were maliciously lit at the landfill causing smog to envelop Port-of-Spain the following day. Winds blew the smoke directly into the city causing schools and businesses to close early.
Air quality improved Tuesday morning but by mid-afternoon there were reports of smoke blowing back into the city. Yesterday, the wind changed its seaward course and instead blew smoke inwards — into the city, extending far west as Westmoorings.
“At present, we wish to advise there is one area of the landfill that is still on fire and we continue to work assiduously in dealing with this area despite prevailing wind conditions which has brought a resurgence of smoke into the capital city and environs,” Sooklal said.
She said the multi-sectoral team, comprising members of the Fire Department, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), the Ministry of National Security and SWMCOL is working to extinguish the fire.
Sooklal said the team is using water to douse surface fire and sand to contain and prevent below surface level fires.
On Monday, the EMA conducted air quality tests at Sea Lots, downtown Port-of-Spain and near the Foreshore which revealed that toxic particulates (particles suspended in the air) in Sea Lots were 13 times the limit outlined in the EMA’s Draft Air Pollution Rules (APR).
Results for downtown Port-of-Spain revealed readings ten times higher than the limit and tests near the Foreshore, revealed readings more than twice the limit.
Additional air quality tests were conducted in St Clair, around the Queen’s Park Savannah, Movie Towne and along the Brian Lara Promenade. Results revealed air quality had returned to normal levels within some parts of Port-of-Spain.
The Ministry of Health released a bulletin yesterday warning the public that increased air pollution from the landfill may be hazardous to health, especially to people predisposed through hypersensitivity to conditions like bronchial asthma and dermatitis.
North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) officials were instructed to extend opening hours of Health Centres in Woodbrook and El Socorro to 9 pm.
The Accident and Emergency Departments at both Port-of-Spain General Hospital and the St James District Health Facility is offering 24-hour service. Dr Eddison Haque, chairman of the NWRHA said there was a notable increase in people seeking treatment at the emergency department for respiratory problems.
One woman waiting at the Accident and Emergency Department of the Port-of-Spain General Hospital told Newsday that she was informed by an attendant that she would have to wait because there were a number of people being admitted with respiratory issues due to smoke inhalation.
For a third day in a row, National Petroleum’s (NP) head office in Sea Lots remained closed due to excessive amounts of smoke emanating from the nearby landfill. Arrangements were made to ensure the continued delivery of fuel, however there was no further sale of Liquid Peteroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders from Sea Lots for the remainder of the day.
Acting Prime Minister Prakash Ramadhar was yesterday afternoon due to receive a report on the situation at the landfill from Environment Minister Ganga Singh, ahead of today’s Cabinet meeting. “We really do need to take a longer-term view not just on Beetham but also Forres Park (Claxton Bay),” Ramadhar said.
Yesterday, thousands of school children in Port-of-Spain and environs were sent home early for another day because of the blanket smoke. Some affected schools included St Rose’s Primary, Nelson Street Boys, Success Laventille Secondary, Tranquility Secondary, South East Port-of-Spain Secondary, St Joseph Convent, Servol and St Mary’s College.
Several students and teachers yesterday said the smoke made it hard to breathe which also affected students’ concentration levels. Even schools fitted with aircondition units could not escape the choking smoke.
Visits to communities in Beetham Gardens, Prizgar Lands in Laventille, the Civilian Conservation Corps centre and several businesses in Port-of-Spain saw residents, businessmen, motorists and pedestrians complaining of one common problem — smoke.
At the Pensioner’s Quarters in Beetham Gardens, some pensioners said they were affected by the smoke. An 89-year-old man who gave his name only as Noel said: “It is very hard to breathe. It makes no sense putting on my glasses because I have to keep wiping my eyes all the time. We can’t go anywhere so all we have to do is stay put and take the smoke.”
Other luckier pensioners said they contacted loved ones who live outside of the city and will spend a few days at their relatives’ homes until the smoke subsides.
Residents of Prizgar Lands in Laventille said the smoke has made life unbearable since Monday with one man jokingly saying that at least bandits and gangsters too are also affected. “The people who lit these fires were not thinking of anyone else but themselves. This situation is overbearing man. This smoke is madness,” a shopkeeper said.
The 12 fires were maliciously lit on Sunday evening inside the sprawling landfill hours after several Beetham men threatened protest action when one of their own was shot in the leg by police during an altercation near the landfill.