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Riverton fire threatens to postpone Grade Six Achievement Test

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2015 | 6:42 PMLivern Barrett

Cabinet is to decide today whether the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), scheduled for this week, will be postponed as the fire at the Riverton City disposal site in St Andrew continues to wreak havoc across much of the Corporate Area and St Catherine.

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Elaine Foster-Allen, revealed yesterday that as many as 11,500 GSAT students from schools in Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine are likely to be affected by the smog.

Approximately 39,000 students are scheduled to sit the test on Thursday and Friday.

"Regarding the GSAT examinations, we await a decision to be taken by Cabinet tomorrow [today]," Foster-Allen told reporters during a press conference at the New Kingston offices of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) yesterday to provide an update on the fire.

While she was unable to provide figures, Foster-Allen said the education ministry has confirmed that a number of GSAT students in Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine have been impacted by the smog and, as a result, there are questions about whether their health will improve by Thursday.

She said this would present a number of challenges for the ministry.

"Were we to have the children in the rest of the country take the exams and the children in the Corporate Area and Portmore not take the exams, we are talking about having to set another exam and all the challenge that comes with that," she explained.

very much contained

Director general of ODPEM, Major Clive Davis, said the Jamaica Fire Brigade has reported to him that the fire, which began last Wednesday, "is very much contained".

"There is no risk of it going any further at this time," Davis said in response to initial reports that as much as half of the 120-acre disposal site was on fire.

He said there is still no indication what caused the blaze, as the investigation has been deferred until the fire is fully under control.

State minister in the Ministry of Local Government, Clive Fagan, who also addressed journalists, described the latest in a series of fires at the disposal site and the attendant smoke nuisance as being "unprecedented in scale and intensity".

He acknowledged that residents in affected communities are "hurting and angry" and again used the opportunity to appease their wrath.

"I want to apologise for the suffering that you have experienced. I also want to let you know that we are doing everything to ensure that we can contain this crisis quickly," Fagan underscored.

Yesterday, the health ministry revealed that a total of 642 persons have sought medical attention for respiratory ailments caused by the smoke.

Acting chief medical officer, Dr Marion Bullock-DuCasse, said in addition to the extended opening hours instituted at health facilities in the affected communities since last Friday, the health ministry has also taken steps to ensure there are adequate stocks of the medication used to treat these ailments.

"We have procured additional stocks just to ensure our preparedness, and they have been distributed. All of our health facilities have adequate supplies of equipment, as well as pharmaceuticals, including the respiratory solutions," she underscored.

However, five days after the fire started, Bullock-DuCasse admitted that the results of the air-quality tests are still outstanding.

"They should become available this afternoon (yesterday) or tomorrow morning (today) from the Bureau of Standards," DuCasse revealed.