Ministry of Health to Conduct Research on the Effects of Air Pollutants from Fires at Disposal Sites

Story Highlights

  • The Ministry of Health has started the review of literature as the basis for conducting research on the effects of the air pollutants associated with fires at Disposal Sites and will engage local and international partners in this priority area.
  • The Air Quality Report which was commissioned by the Ministry has shown that during the period when the sample was taken (March 13-14, 2015) there were high levels of hazardous substances including benzene.
  • The Ministry of Health will continue to monitor the situation in collaboration with the National Environment and Planning Agency.

The Ministry of Health has started the review of literature as the basis for conducting research on the effects of the air pollutants associated with fires at Disposal Sites and will engage local and international partners in this priority area.

The Air Quality Report which was commissioned by the Ministry has shown that during the period when the sample was taken (March 13-14, 2015) there were high levels of hazardous substances including benzene. Prolonged or long-term exposure to benzene has been blamed for causing cancers such as leukemia. According to the Centres for Disease Control, USA, long term exposure to benzene is exposure for over one (1) year.

Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Marion Bullock DuCasse says the sampling for Volatile Organic Compounds shows that benzene was at the highest level ever recorded by the Ministry. “The high level of benzene is directly attributed to the burning at the Riverton Disposal Site. We consider this a significant public health issue,” she said.

Benzene which is also found at low levels in emissions such as cigarette smoke and from vehicles can cause symptoms such as drowsiness, dizziness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, headache, tremors and confusion immediately after exposure to high levels of the substance. Long term exposure can result in a decrease in red blood cells leading to anaemia, excessive bleeding and a reduction in the capacity of the immune system to fight infections and cancers.

Dr. DuCasse added that the other particulate matter found in the air during the testing can cause mild to severe effects on the respiratory tract, including lung irritation and respiratory distress. In addition the feeling of suffocation and hyperventilation that some persons have been experiencing could be due to the displacement of oxygen by the heavy gas emissions.

Dr. DuCasse says persons who are affected by the smoke and other emissions from the Disposal Site should continue to take the recommended precautions including avoiding the area, staying indoors as much as possible, keeping doors and windows closed, using a mask, preferably an N95 mask or a damp cloth to reduce exposure to smoke and to protect from inhaling particulate matter (small particles) that emanate from the burning site.

She said children, the elderly and those persons with chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma should be closely supervised. “If persons experience any sort of respiratory symptoms they should take their prescribed medication or seek medical attention immediately,” Dr. DuCasse cautioned.

The Ministry of Health will continue to monitor the situation in collaboration with the National Environment and Planning Agency.

 

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