Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Hon. Noel Arscott, says conditions at the Riverton Landfill and disposal site, in Kingston, are back to normal, noting that the government’s response to the problem has been successful.
Speaking at a press briefing, on February 17, at Jamaica House, the Minister informed journalists that the Ministry is further working to meet its target of eradicating the remaining smoke affecting the communities of Riverton, Washington Gardens, Cooreville Gardens, Gregory Park and other areas by the close of the day.
“Conditions at the dump are back to pre-February 6, 2012 conditions. We have (already) met our target outlined to put out the fire and control the smoke in the first 72 hours… The fire has been extinguished, but pockets of smoke still emit from some areas,” he noted.
He said the smoke would dissipate as soon as covering operations are completed. Mr. Arscott advised that emergency workers would also resume the routine covering of the landfill, as this has not been done for over a year.
“We are reminding the public that normal covering operations will result in the release of dust and this in turn will be interacting with micro climatic conditions during late evening to early morning,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile, Director General, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Ronald Jackson, reiterated the Minister’s stance that the operations were successful; pointing out that the team had met its targets and timelines.
“If we are looking at the indicators of success, we have been successful and we have been so successful that we have managed to withdraw, as we progress into that 196-hour period of operation, unnecessary equipment from the site,” he said.
Mr. Jackson noted that further indicators of the team’s success could be seen when one looked at the timelines and targets that were set. “What we did was to initiate a call for all equipment and resources required to effectively treat with the fire. As those came in they were employed to the site to begin the immediate work to address the problem,” he informed.
He noted that the emergency team set a 72-hour deadline for fire fighting, which was also met. The 72-hour target, he said, also included a containment of the column of smoke, which was also met.
“We must recognise that initially the problem spanned the greater part of the Kingston Metropolitan Area and sections of St. Catherine and by Friday evening, it was quite visible that most of the areas that had been impacted were not being impacted going into Saturday,” he said.
He noted that the team also set an additional five-day target to address the further abatement of the smoke and to continue the covering of the areas that were affected. Mr Jackson said he was happy to report that this target would also be met by the close of the day.
In the meantime, the Minister advised that while the source of the fire has not yet been determined, initial investigations suggest that it could have resulted from natural combustion. He said investigations, which were being led by the Jamaica Fire Brigade, are ongoing and a final statement on the findings would be released to the public as soon as they become available.
He said that from a financial perspective, there are four cost points that are being considered for review. These, he said, involved the cost of cover material and stock piling of this material at the landfill. “This will require a onetime cost of approximately $30 million, and $25 million annually going forward to facilitate continuous covering of the disposal site,” he informed.
The costs also include funding for a water storage facility on the landfill, heavy duty equipment rehabilitation, access road and pathways to the landfill and cost for protective gear.
Minister Arscott indicated that an Emergency Response Team has been assembled since the start of the fire, which will seek to conduct a final review of the operations and prepare its findings. “The findings from this will be reported to a Committee chaired by National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) Board member, Anne Shirley,” he informed.
The Committee will look at the recommendations, best practices and the way forward, and will report to the Minister, following which a comprehensive review will be presented to Cabinet.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter