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High-risk emissions from Riverton fire

— NEPA air quality report

Wednesday, April 04, 2012    

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WEEKS after it said it was processing data on how the Riverton dump fire affected air quality in the Corporate Area and St Catherine, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has released a report showing that the week-long blaze in February released 'very high-risk' levels of dangerous particulate matter into the environment.

The fire at the Riverton facility produced thick grey smoke which blanketed much of Kingston and parts of St Andrew and St Catherine, and caused several persons to go into respiratory distress; closing schools, and prompting calls for a report showing the quality of the air residents were being forced to breathe.

NEPA released on the weekend the results of a monitoring exercise it conducted jointly with the Ministry of Health from February 6 to 13, that showed ambient air quality within a one-kilometre radius of the dump site was 'very high risk'.

"The general conclusion, based on the results of the monitoring exercise, is that the fire at the Riverton disposal site created a negative impact on the ambient air quality in Kingston and St Andrew and Portmore regions," the report said, confirming the suspicions of the several citizens, including members of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition who had called for the report to be made public.

This conclusion, the report stated, was based on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Canadian air quality index definitions which categorise the impact of this type of pollution based on the amount of particulate matter, 'less than 10 microns' or (PM10), in an area.

Particulate matter describes particles in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets, while (PM10) is the US EPA's indicator for the short and long-term health-related particulate standards.

The Hamilton County Environmental Services Air Quality Division's website said particulates under 10 microns in diameter may lodge deep in the lungs. Short-term (PM10) exposure can irritate the lungs and cause immune responses. Lung constriction, shortness of breath and coughing may also result. The website also said materials dissolving from burning particles can damage cells and long-term, lower-level exposure may cause cancer and premature deaths.

But areas immediately near to the dump were not the only places that suffered significant exposure to health-damaging particulates. The NEPA report said even at distances up to two kilometres away from the burning dumpsite, air quality was still considered 'high risk'.

Places deemed to have been at highest risk include Riverton Meadows, Cooreville Gardens and Cooreville Basic school, lower sections of Weymouth Drive, the Riverton community centre and surrounding communities, and all facilities up to one kilometre along the Spanish Town Road.

Areas categorised as 'high risk' were Washington Gardens, Duhaney Park Primary, Edith Dalton James High School, Duhaney Park police station, lower sections of Duhaney Park Drive, and all facilities up to two kilometres on Spanish Town Road.

The report said the monitoring exercise racked up estimated total costs of $2,424,840 for travelling, labour and equipment.

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