Environment

Air quality report on Riverton fire still under wraps

BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Environment editor williamsp@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 11, 2012    

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THE air quality report on the contaminants left in the air by the most recent Riverton City dump fire is complete, but has not yet been released to the public as the authorities hustle to ready themselves for the onslaught of questions from civil society on the matter.

In a March 8 letter to the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition — whose members last week raised concern over, among other things, the delay in the release of the report — Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill, along with Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson, and Minister of Local Government and Community Development Noel Arscott have made it clear that no details will be forthcoming before March 16.

"We acknowledge receipt of your joint letter dated February 29, 2012. Please accept our apologies for the delay in responding. However, in the meantime, we have instructed our technical personnel to furnish appropriate responses to the queries raised. We expect a response no later than March 16, 2012. Thereafter, we will invite you to meet with us to continue the dialogue," the ministers said.

Among the specific requests made by the coalition were:

* the full air report, complete with the results and costs of the testing;

* an update on the status of the monitoring and enforcement programmes of both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Land, Water, Environment and Climate Change to ensure the required management measures are carried out at the dump; and

* an update on the current state of the management of the island's dumpsites; the equipment available; the supply of cover; the number of technical staff; the competencies applied in the solution; the composition of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) board; the expertise contained on the board and by the executive director whose appointment has now been announced.

National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) chief executive officer Peter Knight said Friday that he would convene a meeting tomorrow (Monday) between his office and the various stakeholders — NSWMA, the Ministry of Health and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management — to begin to prepare the responses.

At the same time, he said he intended to have the air quality evaluation committee — set up as part of the Air Quality Programme being implemented by the environmental regulatory agency — look at the report to provide feedback.

"The air quality evaluation committee meets on Thursday, which is a multi-agency committee [comprising the] Ministry of Health, the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, the Environmental Health Unit, the National Works Agency, Mines and Geology, the University of Technology and the University of the West Indies, as well as internal persons. We want to share it with them. We want to do an internal critique," Knight told the Sunday Observer earlier in the week.

The Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, meanwhile, has emphasised the urgency with which information on the report and the current infrastructure for solid waste management in Jamaica should be made available.

"I think there has been enough time and that there should be some more urgency applied. I certainly think the air quality report should be released," said one player, Diana McCaulay, the chief executive officer for the Jamaica Environment Trust who has described the ministers' written response to their concerns as "a bit of a non-letter".

Still, she said they would wait until March 16.

"I will wait until the 16th of March. And then I really have to hope that there will be a meeting shortly after that," McCaulay said.

The air quality report is to be informed by data gathered from NEPA's three air quality stations in the Kingston Metropolitan Area — Cross Roads, the other along Old Hope Road and the third at Harbour View; some seven other private sites in the KMA; and from the Ministry of Health's mobile air quality units which were dispatched to collect data as the fire raged at the dump.

Together the sources are expected to supply data on particulate matter 10 (PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) — all of which NEPA insists will provide a good indication of air quality measured, which is categorised into good, moderate and unhealthy bands.

Good air quality reportedly falls between 0-50 micrograms per cubic metres. Between 51 and 100 micrograms per metre cube is considered moderate so that individuals who have a past or recent history of upper respiratory disease should limit their exposure to that zone. More than 150 micrograms per cubic metres is considered unhealthy and therefore unsafe.

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