Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Pollution crisis - Portmore residents with respiratory illnesses urged to flee foul community

Published:Sunday | February 5, 2017 | 2:00 AMRyon Jones
This massive column of smoke which blanketed sections of Portmore, St Catherine last Wednesday, was reportedly caused by persons burning tyres to get the metal inside them.
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Residents of the sprawling community of Portmore, St Catherine, are breathing in some of the worst-quality air across Jamaica as unregulated garbage dumps, illegal burning and other activities foul their environment.

Consultant physician and pulmonologist at the University Hospital of the West Indies, Dr Althea Aquart-Stewart, is advising persons who suffer from respiratory problems to avoid living in Portmore, if possible.

"I can tell you that there are a number of people who come from that area with exacerbation of their medical problems," said Aquart-Stewart, who is an associate lecturer in the Department of Medicine at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.

"Given the dusty environment of Portmore, the household burning of garbage as well, and the heat, asthmatics go through hell. Can you imagine more so for the little children?"

Aquart-Stewart, immediate past president of the Association of Consultant Physicians of Jamaica, added that persons may need to avoid living in Portmore "because the level of exposure they have to deal with leads to frequent hospital visits and private doctor visits in order to relieve the symptoms".

In the meantime, Peter Knight, head of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), last week confirmed that Jamaica's air quality is bad and deteriorating fast, with the Corporate Area and Portmore being worst affected.

According to Knight, based on data from the numerous air quality monitoring sites across the island, there is a pollution crisis that threatens to worsen.

"We have an air quality situation that is deteriorating more and more. The air quality in the Corporate Area is more and more compromised from industry, illegal burning and motor vehicle emissions," said Knight.

For persons affected by asthma or other respiratory illnesses, Portmore is not the ideal place for them to live, as higher-than-average composition of coarse dust particles, solid or semi-solid, (PM10) are being released into the atmosphere.

Knight noted that the annual average recording of PM10 at the Portmore station in St Catherine is higher than the rest of Jamaica.

"The station is also impacted by dust emission from unvegetated open lots, and when people traverse them, vehicles drive on them or the wind picks up, it picks up all of this dirt and it brings it and swings it around through the communities.

"There is also cane field burning, and there is also a mineral processing facility on the Dyke Road. So all of these activities contribute to what we are seeing," said Knight.

NEPA is also concerned about the Spanish Town Road corridor from Six Miles to Three Miles, where illegal dumps are being operated and illicit burning taking place.

"There is a livelihood issue, as persons along that corridor burn tyres to get the metal and other things, which is a lucrative activity," said Knight.

"We know of these activities, but it is a difficult terrain. Industries have raised these matters with us about the impact it has on their staff and on productivity.

"Added to the burning and the motor vehicle emission there is also the problem of illicit burning around the city. Everywhere you go everyone is burning; people sweep up a few leaves and they have to burn it. Another issue is people trying to get rid of waste, which could be a response to the solid waste take-up," added Knight.

He noted that while the level of PM10 in the air is of serious concern, said fine particles in the air, PM2.5, are even more dangerous as they tend to penetrate the lungs and cause serious problems.

There are currently two stations to measure PM2.5 on the island, but none is in Portmore as there is not enough money to set up these facilities on a wide scale.

In fact, NEPA is now measuring only for air pollutants, as there is not enough money to test for numerous other contaminants.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com