MINISTER of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Robert Pickersgill says the Government has nothing to hide and is not involved in a cover-up regarding the recent fires at the Riverton landfill.
Speaking at a meeting with members of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition and the Jamaica Environment Trust on a number of issues surrounding the fire at the Riverton Dump, Pickersgill said that the response to contain and extinguish the fire was swift, but the response teams were challenged in overcoming the fires due to many factors.
“It is a fact that the disposal site was not being properly managed. Proper management of the disposal site requires and prevent the breeding of insects and vermin. Lack of budgetary support to procure the required cover material and to keep the heavy duty equipment functional and effective played a major role,” Pickersgill explained.
He added that “this impacted on public health and the environment and caused extensive loss to businesses and affected the normal daily activities of citizens.”
The meeting was held on Friday at the Ministry’s New Kingston offices.
“It is a fact that regulatory agencies were challenged. The assessment of air quality presents major challenges. The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) operates four ambient air quality monitoring stations in the corporate area. The station collects monitoring data routinely but were not deployed to measure air quality specifically for a fire from the disposal site,” Pickersgill said.
He noted that during the fire (from February 6-12), deployment of additional monitoring stations was restricted due to “sheer inadequate numbers of stations, malfunctioning pieces of equipment and inadequate capacity in the private sector.”
“Generally, the capacity is to test for particulate matter (PM10), sulphur dioxide (So2) and nitrogen dioxide (Nox). I am advised that these are good criteria air quality indicators but there is need for capacity in testing for other pollutant, generally referred to as volatile organic compounds,” Pickersgill said.
The Environment Minister further stated that the Ministry of Health has reported an increase in respiratory illness cases at some health facilities, particularly those in close proximity to the site.
“On behalf of the Government I wish to apologise to those individuals and businesses affected. I am confident that regulators will take the required action to obtain compliance from the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA). The Government will not abdicate its responsibility and will be seeking to provide the NSWMA with resources, within the present challenging fiscal space, to allow it to perform and be held accountable,” Pickersgill said.
In the meantime, the Minister disclosed that the government will need to identify a minimum of between US$20 and $100 million in the long term to construct appropriate sanitary landfills to serve the country.
He also further informed that $80 million will be required to install routine monitoring stations in specific high population areas of Spanish Town, May Pen, Mandeville, Montego Bay, Portmore and additional sites in the Kingston Metropolitan Region.