MONTEGO BAY, St James — The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has issued site warning notices to Western Parks and Markets (WPM) following investigations into the fire at the Retirement dump which is still emitting harmful smoke in this city.
According to NEPA's Legal and Enforcement Division Director Morjorn Wallock, when the agency received complaints about the fire last week, an investigation was conducted over two days.
“Coming out of our investigation, the NSWMA (National Solid Waste Management Agency), which is the recipient of an environmental permit from NEPA's National Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA), was served two site warning notices for certain breaches of the environmental permit,” Wallock told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday.
Though the cause of the fire, which started on March 27, is yet to be determined, Wallock said the solid waste management team was negligent in its operations, based on the investigation.
“Some of the breaches are administrative. For example, they failed to post a sign, and failed to submit a detailed operation and maintenance manual as they are required to. But they were also not taking sufficient steps to ensure that there is no burning of waste at the disposal site,” Wallock said.
According to Shannen Suckra, manager of NEPA's Air Quality Management branch, checks made by her team revealed “an approximate 30 per cent increase” of fine particulate matter (PM), an air pollutant, during the fire.
“The air quality monitor that we have in that vicinity is in the Catherine Hall and Bogue environs, and this may be about five kilometres from the solid waste disposal site, and it does monitoring for what we call particulate matter less than 2.5 microns or PM 2.5,” Suckra explained.
“In a nutshell, the PM 2.5 is that fraction that you can't see with the naked eye, but it is still there. It is about 20 to 30 times smaller than a single strand of human hair. We monitor for this metric because it gives us a good idea of what exposure can be for both humans and the environment.”
Added Suckra: “Our measurements showed an approximate 30 per cent increase above normal, but we only noticed this change on March 29. This does somewhat corroborate with what was observed on the ground. But by [March] 30 we had some heavy rainfall and that fortunately would have removed some of the pollutants from the air. So, in effect, this would have reduced some of that prolonged exposure and minimise the impacts.”
Suckra further noted that although NEPA's measurements returned to normal after the heavy rainfall experienced in St James on that day, “we have to acknowledge, notwithstanding this, that the communities closer to the disposal site would have been more affected [since] our monitor is located some distance away”.
“We would have seen visuals of the smoke and those persons would have gotten most of the impact,” she said.
Acknowledging the notices issued by NEPA, Dramaine Jones, acting regional manager of WPM, told the Observer that the solid waste management team is working to correct the concerns expressed by the environmental agency.
“NEPA served two notices to the disposal facility. One is in relation to conditions of the permit such as dust nuisance and signage that we are to implement. The other is about the situation of the burning activities,” Jones said.
“We are ensuring that we are complying with both. The smoke has been minimised; we are basically finishing up at this point and whatever smoke is [left] is contained on the site. We also plan to ensure that the relevant signage that should be there is put in place,” he added.
Once the agency is able to control the smoke at the dump, Jones said, there will be added measures to prevent dust nuisance.
“We will be implementing our dust suppression plan because that is usually an issue whenever there are very dry periods. Since last week we have gotten rain about four times at the site, so that has helped to suppress the dust. However, we need to put something in place for when the time gets dry again,” said Jones.