Wed | Oct 18, 2017

Jason Meichen | Copper ban welcome - finally, I can breathe again!

Published:Saturday | February 18, 2017 | 12:00 AMJason Meichen

Several years ago, I bought property in the Kingston 20 area in what was sold to me by my housing agent as a quiet, growing community, the ideal place to live and raise my family.

My neighbourhood is great quiet, close to social amenities, churches and schools, and family - friendly. Occasionally, over the years, we have had wafts of foul air and smoke from the Riverton City dump, but for the most part, this hasn't been the most major nuisance.

Jamaica's scrap-metal trade boom resulted in a flourishing facility emerging near the entrance to the Riverton City dump in the St Andrew Western constituency. With the trade came a spin-off activity among the young men from the Callaloo Bed community the burning of motor vehicle tyres for copper for export. These young men would acquire loads of tyres, and in the evenings burn them down for the copper content. This activity created plumes of acrid smoke all over Kingston 20, and stretching to Portmore, Three Miles, Molynes Road, and Kingston 19.

It was horrible, choking smoke that made our eyes water. It was not dulled by closing all doors and windows. It permeated our houses and clothing it was ongoing.

You could set your clocks to it - around 6:30 p.m., the place would cloud over, and the smoke would remain right through the night, enveloping the communities, remaining in the mornings, sometimes up to 10 a.m..

One morning a few weeks ago, I did a 'smoke tour', and drove around to see how far it was impacting. Sure, I could relocate from Kingston 20 if pushed, but I wanted to remain close, as my children attend schools in the area.

But I realised that the smoke nuisance stretched from Ferry to Perkins Boulevard, from the foot of Red Hills to the bottom of Molynes Road near Hughenden, and from Spanish Town Road to Three Miles. It wasn't just my community; it was many other areas, too.

Our saving grace was some Gleaner and TVJ stories a few weeks ago on the pollution issue in the area. The stories highlighted the problems as stemming from two illegal dumps in the area where people were burning waste, which was causing much bother for people as far as Portmore.

The National Environment and Planning Agency was quoted as expressing concern about the Spanish Town Road corridor where illegal dumps are being operated and illicit burning taking place. The agency acknowledged that persons along that corridor burn tyres to get the metal, which is a lucrative activity. Industries along the corridor have raised the issue with NEPA about the pollution impact on their staff and on productivity.

 

Ecstasy

 

A few days after the news stories, our hero, a knight in shining armour in the form of Karl Samuda, the minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, announced a ban on the trade of copper, intended to discourage the theft of copper cables from utility companies.

FLOW was ecstatic, having suffered millions of dollars in losses. My family was even more ecstatic. Because along with the ban came a pause in the tyre burning! Suddenly, we could breathe again.

But then along came a bummer in the form of absentee Member of Parliament and Opposition Spokesman on Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton. Mr Hylton, who also happens to the MP for my constituency, St Andrew Western was aghast at the ban, calling it a "draconian and precipitous action" that would impose severe hardship on those who have made significant investments in the setting up of facilities to purchase copper legitimately for the export trade.

Now I had to wonder what Mr Hylton's real motive was. Because having seen him only once in my area in the nine years I've lived there, I don't get the feeling that concern for anyone's well-being is of paramount significance to him.

But then I know that a large number of Hylton's voters come from the areas around Riverton, and the ban on copper would affect their livelihood. And votes mean maintaining power in a seat he's held undeservedly for years. Could it be that his interest stems from pressure from his constituents who were benefiting from the tyre-burning business, who now have no avenue to sell their copper?

For that, I say shame on Mr Hylton, and urge him to quit infringing on my right to enjoy my space.

And for as long as Mr Samuda holds the ban, I will say thank you a hundred times over to him. Because if even for a few weeks, you would have allowed by family to breathe again.

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