Mouthing hot air and adulterated garbage about the Riverton fire

Mark Wignall

Thursday, February 23, 2012

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Sitting on 10 of the 100 acres at the Riverton City dump site are an estimated 12 million discarded old tyres that if set ablaze, would have catastrophic consequences for the health of Jamaicans in at least six of our 14 parishes. That fire could potentially run for months and would seriously hobble our already under-equipped fire services.

Only about 20 feet (and the narrow Duhaney River) separated the tyres from a fire which burnt there in 2006.

Recently the JLP, through Desmond McKenzie, Western Kingston MP and Opposition spokesman on urban renewal, rural development and local government, said in the House: "There are about some 12,000 people living in some 1,600 houses in proximity to the landfill and about 50 per cent of them live in Riverton itself. I don't know how the Member of Parliament for Western St Andrew (Anthony Hylton) looks at it, but I know Riverton City as an extremely poverty-stricken community, which incidentally has always backed the current government 100 per cent."

He then went on to say: "We need to show these citizens that we are not ignoring their health issues but that we are sincerely committed to ensuring that things like constant fire at the landfill, which creates a smoke-filled environment across the Corporate Area and parts of St Catherine, are addressed with urgency."

Based on what I have determined, the JLP MP was blowing smoke, politically toxic smoke.

In most of last year, those in the management of the dump site were fully aware and were repeatedly warned by those on site that a fire was imminent, either through spontaneous combustion or sabotage, because of the lack of cover fill and adequate equipment for use in the process.

The dump site, known to those with stomach for a good joke as a "landfill", takes in approximately 350 loads of unsorted garbage per day. Jamaicans on the island are not sophisticated people. A typical bag of garbage (for those who care to bag it) will contain plastic, paper, glass, metal, old cellphones and organic material, including a dead rat or two. The informal sorters who make a desperate living from the site do the obvious, but they slow down the process of dealing with the garbage on site.

"Dealing with the garbage" means using specific types of heavy machinery to push the waste material into a cell of 400 square yards then utilising another type of unit to press it flat, after which soil material is used to cover it and then the whole is compressed. That process is repeated until that cell can take no more garbage. After that, another cell in the 100 acres at Riverton is chosen.

When a cell is completely used up, the result is a fairly flat soil-covered area.

If Desmond McKenzie and Local Government Minister Noel Arscott had done their homework, they would have determined that the twice per year cover fill was not being adhered to, there was shortage of NSWMA equipment and an unwillingness to lease the needed equipment from independent contractors.

If there was a cash incentive to senior management personnel to save on operational expenses, they could not have done it better. And of course, if there was a cash incentive to medical consultants employed at government hospitals to save on operational expenses, there would be little medicine purchased, few medical procedures effected, dead patients piling up, but the senior doctors (and morticians) would be laughing all the way to the bank.

Based on what I have determined (and I challenge anyone in the last administration in local government and senior NSWMA personnel to prove me wrong), it is my belief that someone from the last JLP administration and/or the NSWMA should be hauled before a parliamentary committee to answer charges of gross dereliction of duty for bringing about the conditions that led to the February 6 fire.

It is still my understanding that the fire was deliberately set, but if standard procedure had been adopted by utilising twice per year fill and adequate equipment, the fire could have been avoided. With huge mounds of loose garbage, especially the large quantity of environmentally harmful "scandal bags" (easily flammable) used by Jamaicans, all it takes to sabotage the site is two or three people climbing atop at places with five-gallon canisters of gasoline to set the site afire. With the garbage tamped down and covered, that becomes almost impossible.

It is also my belief that the only reason the 10-acre tyre site has not been torched is due to one simple fact. Such a fire would be so devastating that the usual hauling of dirt, marl and the use of heavy machinery could not be employed, and those in that business would not be able to cash in!

On one hand, we have PNP Minister Noel Arscott declaring much too early that the fire was likely caused by spontaneous combustion. Some believe that he adopted that position to stave off the suspicions that contractors loyal to the PNP would benefit from a fire deliberately set.

On the other hand, there is a JLP spokesman Desmond McKenzie, denying himself of the knowledge that the conditions that led to the fire began under the last NSWMA regime prior to the December 29 elections.

Rely on politicians to get to the truth and all we will ever get is hot air, toxic smoke and the people no wiser than before.




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