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No long term effects from exposure to Riverton smoke – MOH

Published:Monday | March 16, 2015 | 5:17 PM
Acting Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health, Dr Marion Bullock-DuCasse

The Ministry of Health is not anticipating that persons will experience any long-term health effects from the thick smoke that has affected at least four parishes from the fire that broke out at the Riverton City disposal site in St Andrew last Wednesday.

"What is happening is that the smoke and whatever is being emitted, such as gases and other compounds, will have varying effects. The immediate ones are what persons are experiencing now, some of which are irritants, eyes are becoming red and burning and watering. Some will have respiratory problems," noted acting chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health, Dr Marion Bullock-Ducasse.

"For those with underlying conditions, where their airways are affected, then they can have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, exacerbation of their asthma or other chronic respiratory illnesses."

"There are also other organic compounds which we know are released from fires of this nature. Some of these have more medium- to long-term effects. We are particularly monitoring these compounds in the air quality. We know some of them, such as the benzenes ... . Prolonged and much longer exposure than we are seeing with this exposure now can go on to form some cancers."

She added, "So these are some of the more long-term effects, and based on what we are seeing now and the period of this fire, we would not be expecting to have any of those long-term effects, unless there was more prolonged exposure such as months into years."

With approximately 800 persons seeking medical attention caused by the fire which broke out six days ago, she said so far no deaths have been reported or recorded as a result and the ministry would continue to monitor the situation.

Bullock-Ducasse said for those with underlying respiratory conditions, at the first sign of any symptoms, such as shortness of breath or difficult breathing, they should take prescribed medication and/or seek immediate medical attention.

In the meantime, the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) said it was deeply concerned about the persistent thick smoke over large sections of Kingston, St Andrew and parts of St Catherine over the past few days and the inevitable negative impact on the health of the population in those regions.

In a media release yesterday, MAJ President Dr Shane Alexis said, "We urge the relevant agencies to increase public education and safety in regard to proper waste disposal and the dangers of smoke inhalation. Communities in the immediate vicinity of the disposal site should be focused on as soon as possible. We hope that the Cabinet of Jamaica will be definitive and implement the necessary measures to permanently address the clear public-health risks that the Riverton landfill continues to pose."