Nadisha Hunter, Staff Reporter
The Office of the Public Defender has taken up the fight of persons suffering serious effects of heavy smoke that has blanketed sections of Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine in recent days. The smoke has been emanating from the Riverton City landfill.
Irked by the recurring problem of fires at the landfill, health risks and nuisance posed to residents of surrounding communities, Public Defender Earl Witter cautioned last week that the matter was not only a "civil wrong", but could attract criminal sanctions.
He has advised members of the public who were affected by the noxious fumes, particularly those who have respiratory illnesses, that his office is always ready to receive complaints about the problem.
A week later, Witter said fewer than 10 persons have so far indicated intentions to seek monetary compensation after suffering from complications associated with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
However, he said the figures were surprising, given the progressive nature of the nuisance.
Witter, though indicating he did not wish to speculate, said it was possible that some persons were first ensuring that they get their conditions medically certified before lodging a complaint.
"We will be seeking to have all their medical expenses and a little something on top, for what the law calls pain and suffering. In other words, we will be endeavouring to assess compensation in the same way that the judge would when assessing damages at court," he said.
In the meantime, The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) said it had received many telephone calls from people located in Kingston and sections of St Catherine complaining of respiratory distress.
"Although we have noted the ODPEM's statement that ambient air-quality tests show acceptable air quality, we call on the authorities to reveal full details of these tests - when and where they were taken, and which air-quality parameters are being tested," the Trust stated in a press release.
"JET reiterates our call for the closure and relocation of the Riverton dump and the institution of managed interim measures to deal with the nation's solid waste. We are anxious that efforts to solve this long-standing problem not lose momentum as the immediate emergency subsides," JET added.
The Trust said it noted reports that the Riverton fire was under control. However it said there was no room for complacency as dump fires can flare again, many pollutants are not visible to the naked eyes and the smoke itself remain very harmful.