Mystery fumes cause toll plaza closure

• Portmore Toll Plaza staff receive medical treatment • Gridlock in the capital city

BY COREY ROBINSON Observer staff reporter

Friday, June 29, 2012    

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FOUL-SMELLING fumes spread across sections of the Corporate Area and St Catherine yesterday morning sending 10 employees of the Portmore Toll Plaza to receive medical treatment, and resulting in evening drive-time traffic gridlock across sections of the capital, Marcus Garvey Drive and other roads in Kingston’s industrial belt.

Up to late yesterday afternoon, emergency responders — including the Jamaica Fire Brigade, the National Environment and Planning Agency, the Ministry of Health, and the police — were trying to determine the origin of the fumes which caused the workers to sneeze and cough uncontrollably.

Last night, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) said that the Portmore Toll Road would be reopened at 7:30 pm, but advised motorists to “keep their windows up in the vicinity of the Port Henderson Road” as faint traces of the odour were still in that area.

Desmond Levy, operations manager at the toll plaza, said the workers started becoming sick shortly after 10:00 am.

“There was a strong smell of a petroleum-based product affecting the toll vicinity. It turned out that two staff [members] took seriously ill and were transferred to a medical facility in Portmore. Afterwards, eight others became very ill as well,” Levy said, explaining that concern for the workers’ health forced authorities to evacuate the toll plaza for the day.

“We have an emergency procedure for when something like this takes place and we implemented the procedure for the benefit of the staff,” said Levy. “My interest right now is to get to the bottom of it; find out what is the cause, and prevent it from happening again.”

Yesterday afternoon, police cordoned off sections of Marcus Garvey Drive in the vicinity of the Tinson Pen Aerodrome, preventing motorists from entering the toll road. Other roadways leading from Marcus Garvey Drive were also closed, causing traffic snarls.

Shortly before 5:00 pm, the ODPEM issued an advisory to all businesses along Industrial Terrace and the surrounding environment “to take strict and urgent precautionary measures for the safety of their staff” and send them home immediately.

“As a matter of extreme safety, all persons are notified to avoid the Portmore Causeway, parts of which have been barricaded due to reports of possible harmful fumes dispersed in the vicinity of the causeway and the Toll Plaza area,” the ODPEM added.

Later yesterday afternoon, reports reached the Jamaica Observer that operations at the Kingston Wharves were also halted as part of precautionary measures.

“We continue to monitor the situation and recommendations from the authorities to provide further update on the resumption of normal operations,” read a release from Mark Williams, chief marketing and corporate planning officer at Kingston Wharves Limited.

When the Observer visited the wharves yesterday, workers were observed wearing respiratory masks.

In the Portmore Mall area some persons were observed covering their noses with handkerchiefs. One female employee of Maxie Department Store said that the fumes entered that store, causing discomfort to staff members and customers.

There were no reports that other persons had to receive medical treatment.





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