Fri | Sep 18, 2020

Toxic Riverton cocktail: Air quality tests reveal cancer-causing substances

Published:Monday | March 23, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica is now facing a "significant public health issue" as a result of air quality tests from the Riverton City disposal site fire which show high levels of hazardous substances including, cancer-causing benzene.

Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Marion Bullock DuCasse says the sampling for volatile organic compounds shows that benzene was at the highest level ever recorded by the ministry.

“The high level of benzene is directly attributed to the burning at the Riverton Disposal Site.

We consider this a significant public health issue,” she said.

According to the Health Ministry, prolonged or long-term exposure to benzene has been blamed for causing cancers such as leukaemia.

According to the Centres for Disease Control, USA, long term exposure to benzene is exposure for over one year.

Last week, Dr Bullock DuCasse said “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.”

While no related deaths have been reported, more than 800 people have had to seek medical attention as smoke blanketed the Corporate Area and sections of St Catherine for days.

“Benzene, which is also found at low levels in emissions such as cigarette smoke and from vehicles can cause symptoms such as drowsiness, dizziness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, headache, tremors and confusion immediately after exposure to high levels of the substance,” read the statement.

It added that “long-term exposure can result in a decrease in red blood cells leading to anaemia, excessive bleeding and a reduction in the capacity of the immune system to fight infections and cancers.”

According to DuCasse "other particulate matter found in the air during the testing can cause mild to severe effects on the respiratory tract, including lung irritation and respiratory distress.

In addition the feeling of suffocation and hyperventilation that some persons have been experiencing could be due to the displacement of oxygen by the heavy gas emissions.”

The air quality tests were conducted using samples taken during the period March 13-14.

The fire, believed to have been started by arsonists, was started on March 11 and is still burning.