Should Champs have been postponed due to air quality report?
Days after the announcement that high levels of deadly substances were present in the fumes associated with the latest fire at the Riverton disposal site, President of the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Dr Walton Small admitted concern, but said he was confident there is no health threat at 'Champs'
An air quality report showed the highest levels of the cancer-causing substance, benzene, ever recorded in Jamaica within the smoke that blanketed the city for close to a week.
Small, speaking with The Gleaner during the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships, now under way at the National Stadium - which like much of the city, was blanketed by smoke from the fire a few days ago - said the organisers have not been given any indication that there is any risk to persons attending or competing at the five-day event.
Noting that chief medical officer Dr Marion Bullock DuCasse, who made the announcement earlier this week, was a member of the event's planning committee, Small said he would expect any threat would have already been indicated.
"We are operating as we planned and, if there were serious concerns and issues that would affect Champs, I think the medical experts would have contacted us and they have not, so we assume that it is at a level that would not affect Champs," Small said.
"The health of the students and everyone else is our greatest concern, and this is why we have been checking with regards to the smoke nuisance. This information about the chemical in the atmosphere is recent and no one has contacted us, but we will talk to Dr Bullock DuCasse to see if it's an issue," Small added. "She (Bullock DuCasse) is, of course, a part of our planning committee so I hope that if it (smoke concerns) was at an extent where it would be harmful to persons here, then it would have been mentioned.
"The high level of benzene is directly attributed to the burning at the Riverton disposal site. We consider this a significant public-health issue," Bullock DuCasse had said earlier this week while speaking to the findings of an air quality report on the fire, which broke out at the waste disposal site on March 11.
Small admitted, too, that the situation with the smoke was a major concern in the build-up to the championships.
"On one side, we were very concerned (with the smoke situation) but we were keeping a close watch on everything and in constant dialogue with the officials and we were assured that it would have been controlled," Small noted.
"We were assured that the smoke nuisance would have been under control and would not affect Champs, so we were fairly comfortable," said Small. "Overall, we are pleased with how things have gone. There were a lot of issues getting things in place in time but we are pleased with what we are seeing."