Mon | Dec 5, 2016

Editorial: Riverton dump - chronic negligence

Published:Saturday | March 14, 2015 | 12:00 AM

There is, understandably, a great deal of angst surrounding the latest inferno at the Riverton City dump. It is almost an annual ritual for thick, polluted smoke to billow into the atmosphere, producing conditions of unbearable discomfort for residents of Kingston and its environs.

The response is usually the same. With the haze choking the city, the limping fire service is pressed into action; backhoes work feverishly to spread soil on the fire; there are announcements about air-quality studies to be undertaken, and promises to put mitigating measures in place. However, after the toxic, hot air has blown away and the dust has settled, it becomes business as usual.

There are suggestions that some persons stand to benefit from these fires. If, indeed, these fires are deliberately set, the police need to thoroughly

investigate the incident and take whatever action is deemed necessary. These fires are expensive to

extinguish.

We see this latest conflagration as much a result of poor management as it is of any environmental or criminal action that may have triggered the fire. The Riverton City burning ritual is an indictment on the efficiency and competence of the Ministry of Local Government and its agencies, particularly the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), which has failed to carry through with mitigating measures promised at the time of the last Riverton City blaze.

High winds and dry conditions are ideal ingredients to provoke fires. Landfill fires are known to occur frequently all over the world. For example, the US Fire Administration confirms more than 8,000 landfill fires annually. With our dump sites largely unregulated and filled with commercial waste such as plastics, tyres, chemicals and batteries, the potential for ignition is real, so vigilance of these sites is essential.

 

Costly Riverton fires

 

An organised and coherent management approach by the relevant ministry and the NSWMA, which operates the site, would have ensured constant monitoring and the establishment of emergency preparations to deal with eventual fires.

The environmental and economic costs of the Riverton fires can be enormous. Families living close to the dump site will no doubt suffer the brunt of the discomfort caused by dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. Experts have pointed to the correlation between poor air quality and respiratory illnesses, including chest pains, asthma and bronchitis.

There are some hidden costs as well, since toxic pollutants are emitted in the atmosphere and can also affect water and soil. Businesses are affected. Yesterday, all Corporate Area schools were ordered closed. But with all of these consequences of a landfill fire, no one is ever held responsible. Once again, the powers that be fall short on the question of accountability.

Surely, there is a case of negligence to be made out against the NSWMA. This agency appears not to understand its overarching responsibility and mandate as they relate to solid-waste management and responsibilities. By any form of evaluation, if there are no drastic changes made to the management of this agency, residents of Kingston and St Andrew can expect to be blanketed by toxic fumes year after year.

Something must be done to force this agency, and the Government, more broadly, needs to develop better practices in the way garbage is collected, transported, and how the Riverton City dump site is operated.