THE photographs published in this week's Sunday Observer showing cattle rummaging through garbage at the Riverton City dump while trucks unload untreated waste, highlighted one aspect of the unacceptable conditions that exist on the landfill.
However, what we found absolutely frightening was the admission by the owners of livestock reared on the dump that their cattle, goats and pigs are sold to butchers.
Even more astonishing, though, is the silence of the Ministry of Health and other relevant government agencies on this most appalling issue.
For, as environmental health specialist Dr Vincent Wright pointed out in our report on Sunday, animals should not be reared for human consumption on a waste disposal site where harmful heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead are common.
According to Dr Wright, once the livestock consume these metals they are stored and even incorporated in the animals' living tissues such as the kidneys, liver and intestines.
These toxins, he told us, will assimilate inside the body of these animals and, after some time, become magnified. The upshot is that the animals may drop dead, or may come down with a disease because their immune system is severely affected.
"We may consume a piece of meat today that is affected with pesticides or heavy metals and what happens is that it will not manifest itself [at] the same time, but the toxins will accumulate inside our body over the years and over a period of time start to manifest themselves. We may later come down with cancer, neurological disorders or hormonal imbalances. These things are slow-acting, they don't manifest themselves overnight," Dr Wright added.
His call for scientific analysis of the material on the dump has been supported by Dr Henroy Scarlett, lecturer in the Department of Community Health at the University of the West Indies, who argued that the possibility of international waste on the dump could increase the severity of the problem.
According to Dr Scarlett, if international garbage is sent to the dump, it could contain diseases unknown to Jamaica in scraps of food and/or meat, and if the animals consume those foods they will likely contract those diseases.
It is clear to us that the authorities need to heed the call of these two doctors for scientific research to determine exactly what is being placed on the dump. In fact, the effort should be islandwide, as we are clearly in the dark as to what is happening at other dump sites.
In addition, the Government, which has exhibited symptoms of Kleine-Levin Syndrome on the Riverton issue, needs to wake up and ensure that its public health inspectors are doing their jobs.
They should ignore the predictable outcry that any clampdown on this unhealthy livestock farming is going to deprive poor Jamaicans of their livelihood, because the very poor are among those whose lives are being placed at risk with the public distribution of contaminated meats.
In any civilised society where the health authorities really care for the well-being of the citizens, some indication of corrective measures would have already been publicised five days after a report such as that which appeared in the Sunday Observer.
The country is waiting.