LETTER OF THE DAY: Better management of Riverton landfill needed
The Editor, Sir:
Anyone who has ever lived in Kingston or Spanish Town for more than a month would have been privy to the disaster that is the Riverton landfill on fire. I understand that these fires happen for several reasons ranging from spontaneous combustion to deliberate creation by humans. However, there is yet to be any study as to what exactly are the long-term health effects of this frequent nuisance.
In speaking with health experts and senior members of the Ministry of Health, I found that what exactly is in the fumes and smoke emitted from the landfill would wholly depend on what exactly is in the landfill. This is the problem because no one knows what goes into the landfill, since no such records are required and no such studies have been done. Even more disturbing is the fact that since there is no industrial landfill in the country, it is assumed - not unreasonably - that most industrial solid waste ends up in the landfill. This could include toxic and harmful substances, with disastrous side effects on nearby populations.
Immediately surrounding the landfill are approximately 12,000 residents, 6,000 of whom live in the Riverton community. A few of these residents, including young children, venture over to the dump to search for recyclable materials such as plastic and glass bottles, which they then sell. While the venture performed is an important one for the environment, and financially beneficial to those who engage in it, it is also a very dangerous one that has ended in serious injury and even death by unfortunate accidents associated with inherent risks of just being near heavy trucks and machinery.
The landfill is also a major emitter of methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Methane is expelled through a natural process from the decomposition of plants, food, and other biodegradable items. Instead of contributing to global warming, this gas can be trapped and used for energy production. It has been done in many other countries in the world, so why not here?
These are some of the issues the citizens of Jamaica face with respect to the Riverton landfill. I strongly urge the Government and our universities to consider carefully the idea of conducting research to know what exactly is going into the landfill, and to fully understand just what are the long-term health effects of the fumes from these fires. This would inform better policy in terms of solid waste management and deciding health priorities. It would also hasten the new move towards a cleaner and safer waste-to-energy programme currently being reviewed by the National Solid Waste Management Authority in conjunction with the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, as well as the construction of an industrial waste disposal site.
The citizens of the country as well as the environment deserve better, and we must give it to them.
I am, etc.,