Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
As Portmore, St Catherine, is the largest community in the English-speaking Caribbean, it is natural that there are a lot of motor vehicles there. The Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) put Portmore's population at 182,153, a bit over a third of St Catherine's total.
While there are no statistics to hand about how many motor vehicles are registered to people living in Portmore, the lines of peak-hour traffic moving in and out of the community along Mandela Highway and Highway 2000 indicate a high concentration of vehicles.
Of course, not all of the vehicles belong to people who live in Portmore; Mandela Highway, especially, handles heavy traffic into and out of Kingston from the west.Many vehicles doing numerous round trips mean a large volume of tyres being used and discarded. And, especially in the middle of a dengue fever threat, improperly disposed of tyres are a happy breeding ground for mosquitoes. It is a problem that Richard Baker, chief public health inspector for St Catherine, is having to tackle "wherever tyres are stored in the open environment".
"Once water gets into them, they are an ideal breeding place for mosquitoes. The colour of the tyres also attracts the mosquitoes. They like the environment and will breed," Baker said.
While tyres which are left out in the open anywhere can trap water and form a breeding ground for mosquitoes, tyre repair shops naturally have a larger volume of them to deal with. "Most of the tyres are stored outside. They get filled with water and breed the mosquitoes," Baker said. So it is those shops which have been the focus of the health department's efforts.
"We visit the shops regularly and we ask the people to store them properly or dispose of them," Baker said. However, he said, "the compliance is really low". He puts some of this down to economics, as "sometimes these tyre shops make a quick buck off a tyre that is not so bad, so they don't want to get rid of them". Plus, Baker conceded, "they don't have a facility to dispose of the tyres".
He noted that there has been no resistance to the Public Health Department's efforts, as the tyre-shop operators are educated about the process. Still, that does not necessarily result in action and Baker said "even if you move that set (of tyres) today, in another week or two it builds up again".
The solution, then, is "they need to store the tyres under a shed". But the stacks of tyres serve as a form of advertisement, Baker saying "they want people to pass and see them". So other means have to be tried and Baker said "we have had discussions with the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) to visit the shops to get the tyres disposed of".
However, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, that initiative has had to be put on hold as the NSWMA's resources are largely dedicated to the clean-up process.
Although proper storage and tyre disposal are not proceeding as desired, there is a treatment plan. "We still visit them and where we find the breeding areas we treat them. We have a granule we throw into the tyres that kills the mosquitoes," Baker said. The St Catherine Health Department had visited about 30 shops over October. The visits have been made to areas all over the parish, including Portmore, Spanish Town, Linstead and Old Harbour. As long as they are not thrown out, the granules are effective for about a month. However, they are not in abundant supply.
"It is a large problem," Baker said.
As widespread as the tyre-related activities are, on October 11 The Gleaner reported that "more than 40 per cent of the St Catherine Health Department's monthly fogging operations is concentrated in Portmore". Dengue fever is caused by a virus transmitted from the Aedes aegypti mosquito to humans.