Increase in respiratory illnesses
The Health Ministry last Friday revealed that there has been a 'slight' increase in the number of persons seeking treatment for respiratory ailments in the days after the fire started at the Riverton City landfill in St Andrew.
However, senior members of the Portia Simpson Miller administration and officials at the National Environment Protection Agency insisted, during a Jamaica House press conference on Friday, that the air quality around the landfill is safe.
Dr Sonia Copeland, director for disease prevention and control, said the Health Ministry is now comparing data gathered in the weeks before and after the fire and subsequent smoke hazard through an existing surveillance system used to monitor respiratory ailments.
According to Copeland, the data has so far shown that there was a 'moderate' increase in the number asthmatics who sought assistance at the Spanish Town Hospital and the Duhaney Park Health Centre.
She said other health facilities such as the Bustamante Hospital for Children and the Kingston Public Hospital did not record any increase in patients seeking treatment for respiratory illnesses.
"We are still analysing the data and we are requesting additional information from the health centres that are in and around the Riverton City dump... and from the schools and businesses in the area," Copeland said.
She said the strategy going forward should be to continue monitoring for the health effects of the fire, which officials are insisting was extinguished in 72 hours.
"The health effects we would expect to be respiratory but also irritation of the eyes and perhaps some skin complaints as well," she said.
Local Government Minister Noel Arscott apologised on behalf of the administration to those persons affected by the fire and the smoke and said the health risks posed to residents remain a "major concern."
"I want to say how sorry we are about the effects on our children and adults in the Kingston Metropolitan Region and St Catherine. Let me reassure you that we are tackling the issues," he said during the press conference.
Arscott said the smoke affecting Washington Gardens, Riverton City, Cooreville Gardens, Gregory Park and neighbouring communities was expected to clear by late yesterday.
The cause of the fire has still not been determined, but the minister said "It could have been caused by natural combustion".