Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Hon. Noel Arscott, is assuring the public that the fire at the Riverton City Landfill in St. Andrew is now "relatively" under control.
The Ministry, in collaboration with various agencies, has been working to contain the fire and institute measures to abate the smoke nuisance since the blaze started on Monday night (February 6).
Speaking at a press conference at the National Solid Waste Management Authority’s (NSWMA) Landfill site office on February 10, Mr. Arcott said the fire, which “by all indications” was caused by spontaneous combustion, has now subsided due to various measures implemented, including dousing the area with water.
The Minister further noted that the equipment used to test air quality “has shown a trending downwards in terms of the intensity (of the smoke)”, adding that a meter to text the toxicity of the air is now in place.
Mr. Arscott said that the fire has been difficult to control, due to intense wind conditions. He informed that after initial attempts to extinguish the blaze proved futile, a special committee comprising the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM); the Local Government Ministry; Jamaica Defence Force (JDF); Jamaica Fire Brigade; and the Ministry of Health was activated to effect an emergency response.
Outlining the challenges at the landfill, the Minister explained that the site is nearly 100 acres “and you can have a fire anywhere at any time” as it produces gases, primarily methane. “So, intermixed with the garbage are combustible materials…therefore the capacity to spot a fire anywhere on the 100-acre site is pretty much a daunting situation,” he stated.
He noted that the chemicals associated with fluorescent tubes, computer parts, aerosol cans, and plastics, comprise the gaseous material that can lead to spontaneous combustion.
To address this situation, Mr. Arscott said the Government would now have to look at the separation of garbage, and ensure proper and timely management of the landfill. “I’m mandating the new board of the NSWMA to begin an educational programme so that we can separate the waste,” he said.
Another problem that contributed to the fire, he said, is the fact that the landfill has not been covered entirely for a long time, which leads to a larger area to monitor
"What we intend to do initially, is to cover the areas that are not (part of) the active dump site (with soil) and to open dump cells,” he said. He informed that plans are also in place to create a better access road to the site and that ODPEM will monitor the area via satellite.
The Minister informed further that there are plans to identify other disposal sites as the lifespan of the current dump site may not be able to be extended beyond another five years. “I expect, in short order, to have the team begin aggressively looking at (identifying other) disposal sites across the country,” he stated.
In the meantime, the Local Government Minister is advising persons, especially those with respiratory problems, to take the necessary precautions, to ensure that they have adequate medication at home, or to move from the vicinity until the smoke nuisance has subsided.
ODPEM is also encouraging affected persons to take the following health precautions:
– Avoid or reduce exposure to smoke by closing windows and doors and remain indoors as much as possible. This is especially so for persons, who suffer from allergies, asthma and other respiratory conditions; the elderly and the young.
– Cover nose and mouth with a clean wet rag or cloth to minimise effects of the smoke.
– Avoid exposing laundry outdoors since these can become contaminated, stained and foul smelling.
– Visit the nearest health facility or doctor in case of shortness of breath, wheezing or severe coughing, especially those with respiratory illnesses.
For further information on health related advice and issues, persons may dial toll free, 1-888 663 5683.
By Alecia Smith-Edwards, JIS Reporter