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Jamaica choking - JET calls for action on air pollution

Published:Monday | February 6, 2017 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Diana McCaulay

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is calling on the regulatory bodies with responsibility for air quality in Jamaica to carry out their duties.

JET is also requesting that Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who is the minister of the environment, take immediate steps to address Jamaica's worsening air quality and give the issue the priority it deserves.

JET's CEO Diana McCaulay's appeal comes in wake of an article published in the February 5 edition of The Sunday Gleaner titled 'Pollution crisis - Portmore residents with respiratory illnesses urged to flee foul community'.

But the issue of pollution is not limited to Portmore, as air quality has been deteriorating in the Kingston Metropolitan Area, with data from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) showing that the air quality in areas such as Spanish Town Road, Mona and Rockfort declined to the worst ever readings in 2015.

According to McCaulay, along with the Ministry of Health, NEPA, and the National Solid Waste Management Authority, all have some responsibility for the issue.

"The public-health threat of open burning remains unaddressed by NEPA, the National Solid Waste Management Authority, or the Ministry of Health," McCaulay charged in a release to the media yesterday.

"The main sources of air pollution in Jamaica are industrial, motor vehicle emissions; open burning by individuals and businesses, garbage dumps, and forest or bush fires. Despite many meetings, reports and promises over two decades, little progress has been made in controlling these sources."

McCaulay further highlighted that Jamaica has no motor vehicle emission standards, and while we do have air-quality regulations for major and significant facilities as defined by law, these facilities (mainly industrial) are required to do their own testing for a number of pollutants (depending on the industry) and report those tests to NEPA.

"Except for particulates, NEPA does not have the equipment to do independent testing for the criteria pollutants (for which there are air quality standards), let alone the 78 priority pollutants (for which there are guideline levels) identified in the air-quality regulations," McCaulay said. "NEPA does not proactively release information on air quality in a form that is understandable by a layperson so it is not easy for a citizen to find out what he or she is breathing."


Turning a blind eye


Environmentalist Diana McCaulay believes the authorities have been turning a blind eye to many illegal practices across the island that have been contributing to the deteriorating air quality.

These, she says, include an illegal operation to retrieve copper from waste tyres, which burns visibly and harmfully every week in the vicinity of Spanish Town.

"Cane fires remain unregulated, although there have been promises over many years that they will be stopped. Farmers still use fire to clear land, sometimes with catastrophic results," McCaulay further outlined.

"Although the fine for open burning under the Public Health Nuisance Regulations is $50,000, the Ministry of Health seemingly has no response to the many trash fires which burn every day all over the island in proximity to large human populations.

"We already know, however, that even where regulations exist, enforcement is grossly inadequate."

JET has begun implementing a new project titled Jamaicans for Clean Air and Water and is currently undertaking a review of the air and water quality legal framework in Jamaica which is anticipated will be completed by March 2017.

In Sunday's article, consultant physician and pulmonologist at the University Hospital of the West Indies, Dr Althea Aquart-Stewart, advised persons who suffer from respiratory problems to avoid living in Portmore, if possible. She said there were a number of people coming from Portmore with exacerbation of their medical problems. Asthmatics she said, "go through hell".