NEPA report smoky

JET questions govt's air quality data

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

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The island's foremost environmental advocacy group Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is questioning the accuracy of the Government report on the week-long fire at the Riverton waste disposal site from July 29 - August 5 this year.

The report, prepared by state regulator National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) in August, revealed the results of air quality tests carried out in the area during and after the fire, which blanketed much of the Kingston Metropolitan Area and part of south-east St Catherine with heavy smoke.

But in a nine-page review of the report prepared with input from environmental pollution experts and circulated Monday, JET pointed to several instances in which it said the Government data was either limited, inconsistent with international standards, or did not account for all .

“In general, JET finds the air quality data presented by the report to be limited, which makes verification of NEPA's analysis of the report difficult,” the review .

It pointed out, for example, that the NEPA report compared air quality conditions during the fire with conditions prior to the fire in the case of only two pollutants — particulate matter measuring less than or equal to 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) and that measuring less than or equal to 10 micrometres (PM10). In the case of other pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the NEPA report only compared conditions during the fire with the conditions after the blaze had subsided.

“In general, the data analysis is placing too much weight on the very little data from the post-incident monitoring period,” the JET review said.

It said further, that where NEPA did focus on particular pollutants, it showed the hourly averages over the period of the fire, as opposed to hourly data for each day. That, the NGO said, suggests that while the fire did increase the concentrations of PM2.5, it did not affect how the concentrations changed over the day.

JET contends that, “Without examining the hourly data for each day, rather than the averages over the period, it is difficult to say without absolute certainty that this is the correct conclusion”.

The NEPA report cited the Saharan Dust as having impacted the level of both PM10 and PM 2.5 on August 8 and 9. However, JET is of the view that while an episode of Saharan Dust could have caused PM10 levels to increase in the monitoring period, PM2.5 levels should not have been impacted, and concludes that the peak in particulate matter on the days in question was due, “at least in part, to another factor”.

It based that conclusion on the fact that, “Unlike smoke, which is heavily weighted toward very small particles (PM2.5), Saharan Dust (which is unburnt, windblown mineral dust) is heavily weighted toward coarser particles”.

The environment lobby group pointed out that while the NEPA report shows that the daily concentrations of PM2.5 and PM 10 during the fire exceeded World Health Organization (WHO) guideline limits, it also indicated that the level of both SO2 and NO2 increased during the event but not to levels thought to be of concern.

“It is very difficult to verify whether this is a sound conclusion as such limited data are presented for both pollutants,” JET argued. “There is also no comparison to WHO guideline limits for either the NO2 or SO2 concentrations presented. Based on the results presented in the report, JET has determined that WHO guideline limits were also exceeded for both SO2 nd NO2 during the fire.”

The NGO pointed out, however, that while the pollutants measured were above the WHO limits, they remained within the Jamaica Ambient Air Quality Standards. To that end, it has recommended that Jamaica updates its air quality standards to match the international limits. It has also reiterated recommendations previously made, to the extent that:

• A health impact survey of communities surrounding Riverton be conducted;

• Riverton and its environs be classified as a critical air pollution exposure site;

• The number of monitoring sites and range of pollutants monitored be increased;

• NEPA publicises enforcement actions against managers of the waste disposal site for permit breaches; and

• The disposal site be removed to a sanitary landfill.

JET advised that it enlisted the technical assistance of retired senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at The University of the West Indies, Mona and expert in environmental pollution and industrial chemistry Dr Anthony Greenaway; and the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide based in Eugene, Oregon, to prepare its review.

When contacted yesterday, NEPA said it had not yet had a chance to review JET's paper and was therefore not in a position to respond.

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