Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter
SECTIONS OF the city and communities in Kingston 20 were yesterday covered with thick smog as noxious fumes emanated from a large fire at the Riverton landfill.
Irked by the recurring problem of fires at the landfill and the health risks and nuisance posed to residents in surrounding communities, Public Defender Earl Witter has cautioned that the matter was not only a "civil wrong", but could attract criminal sanctions.
"Public nuisances are criminal offences at common law. If the police were to prosecute them from time to time, maybe that might get their attention and they would do better," Witter told The Gleaner.
The public defender is advising members of the public who are affected by the noxious fumes, particularly those who have respiratory illnesses, that his office is always ready to receive complaints about the problem.
The Riverton landfill is situated close to a number of middle-income communities in the Kingston 20 area.
The perennial problem of fires at the landfill is not only a nuisance and health risk to residents, but the question of the impact on property value also arises.
"It drives down property values and these are land tax paying people. Nobody wants to go and live in the environs where they are likely to be affected by this kind of nuisance," Witter told The Gleaner.
The public defender noted that the intervention of his office in 2007, in the wake of a massive fire at the landfill, resulted in increased vigilance on the part of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), which has responsibility for the dump.
According to Witter, the NSWMA, in the past, had blamed fires at the landfill on trespassers.
However, the public defender contended that, "It is the duty of the authority, as it would be the duty of any occupier of land from which a public nuisance emanates, to put security in place to deal with trespassers who might be the perpetrators of this nuisance."
He added: "They can't just wash their hands and say, 'It is not our fault. It is some wicked people come here and set fire ... '. That won't wash."
The Gleaner contacted director of landfill at the NSWMA, Dr Andrine Stanhope, for comment but was directed to speak with newly appointed Executive Director Rupert Pryce. However, attempts to reach Pryce on his mobile were unsuccessful as his phone rang without answer.
Yesterday, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) said the fire at the dump was creating an environmental and public-health problem in a wide area of the city.
NEPA said the fire started on Monday.
The Jamaica Fire Brigade, Jamaica Defence Force, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management and private contractors are engaged at different levels to control the fire.