'We can't breathe!'
• Mysterious smoke curbs freedom of movement in Freeport, other parts of MoBay • Gov't MPs join protests against nuisanceThursday, April 22, 2021
BY HORACE HINES
MONTEGO BAY, St James - Irate residents are demanding that the relevant authorities address the problem that has caused plumes of sometimes obnoxious smoke to blanket sections of this resort city in recent weeks, triggering health concerns.
President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI), Janet Silvera, who resides in Freeport, argues that the challenge posed by the smoke nuisance has become so insurmountable that the MBCCI is now seeking to source an instrument to determine what “harmful chemicals are in the smoke we are inhaling in Montego Bay”.
“People in the Freeport area will tell you that if you leave clothes on the line outside overnight, in the morning the smell is like you were at a barbeque next door. The smoke has gotten so bad that I am also having problems with my breathing. Every morning I have a burning sensation in my nose and my throat. The impact the smoke is having on me and my family at home is becoming unbearable. So, it is an issue that needs to be dealt with now,” charged Silvera.
Adam Stewart, chairman of Sandals Resort International, who lives in Freeport as well, is also calling for an end to the troubling situation.
“Where there is a problem there must be a solution. This problem has gone on long enough and the people of Montego Bay need to understand the way forward. Health is wealth and this is a continuous health hazard to all,” Stewart argued.
Another Freeport resident, businessman John Byles, is also complaining bitterly about the smoke problem, which he stated is at times accompanied by a foul smell.
“I lock up inside the house because I can't go out. It smells, and and it is also affecting my sinuses and it burns your eyes, depending on the level it is at. I don't know what it is, to be honest.
“I don't know if it is the dump but this [yesterday] morning, looking through the window, you can just see this heavy, smelly haze. Because I don't know what it is I don't want to step out of my house,” Byles shared.
Yoni Epstein, chairman and CEO of Itelbpo Smart Solutions, another resident of Freeport, complains that the smoke nuisance has been so terrible, “you can't even exercise, you have to lock up the house”.
“It has been really bad. It has not been consistent...it comes and goes. Over the last weekend and a half has been some of the worst in the last six months. But you know, everybody blames somebody else. Nobody has the answer, nobody knows exactly what's going on. It has been noticeable this [yesterday] morning. You smell it and you can see it. You can barely see over Bogue because of the fog,” Epstein pointed out.
Over in Reading, businessman Winston Dear disclosed that his community is also covered by the smoke and called on the respective agencies to address the ongoing plight.
“When you talk to the agencies they say it is not the dump, but you don't know where it is coming from. It is a serious problem. I live in Reading and if you look outside, it's smoke. It's been happening for the last few weeks. Some claim it is the Sahara dust, but something has to be done,” Dear said.
Mark Hart, executive chairman of Caribbean Producers Jamaica Limited is concerned, especially for the health of elderly citizens who are exposed to the smoke.
“Obviously we are very concerned about the health aspects as there are a lot of citizens, including elderly persons, who live in the area who are exposed to the pollutant in not just Freeport, but Bogue Village – which has thousands of people living there,” Hart argued.
For her part, Marlene Malahoo Forte, attorney general and Member of Parliament for St James West Central, told the Jamaica Observer West that the perennial smoke nuisance in the city is a problem which requires focused attention and an urgent solution.
“I have been asked to represent the need for an enterprise committee to be established ASAP to look at a resolution within the next 12 months and I have spoken with the portfolio minister at Cabinet as a start,” she said.
“Insofar as the Retirement dump is a major contributor to the problem, I am firmly of the view that it is inappropriately sited and needs to be relocated. However,it is not just a matter of relocation. A different approach to waste management is urgently required.”
She stated that the time for extended talk around the issues has long passed and nothing short of taking proper steps to implement the required solution will be acceptable.
“As MP and attorney general I will do my part to ensure that the relevant authorities in turn discharge their statutory and other responsibilities and are held to account,” she said.
“Quite frankly, this matter must be on the top burner and I will ensure that it is so placed.”
Her parliamentary colleague, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett who is the Member of Parliament for St James East Central, has also called on the relevant authorities to address the smoke nuisance.
“The local authority, NEPA [National Environment and Planning Agency] and [National] Solid Waste [Management Authority] are the three agencies that should give some account on what is happening,” Bartlett said.
Councillor Leeroy Williams, chairman of the St James Municipal Corporation, argued that while he hasn't heard of any fire at the Retirement dump he heard that “we can expect the Sahara dust and maybe ash from the La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent”.
Over the years, smoke nuisance caused by fires at the Western Parks and Markets (WPM)-run disposal site in Retirement has been a source of annoyance to residents in and around the facility, but yesterday the WPM blamed bush fire in bamboo walks in the hills of John's Hall for the current smoke nuisance.
In a news release, the WPM Waste Management Limited noted that there was no fire or smoke at its Retirement disposal facility in St James. The agency said that the last fire at the Retirement Disposal Site was on March 30, 2021.
“The facility is currently fully covered and fire wardens remain vigilant. Additionally, cover material has been stockpiled to quickly extinguish any fire that may occur due to spontaneous combustion,” a WPM statement said.
Meanwhile, when contacted Tamara Woodit, coordinator for the Western Region of NEPA, revealed that an investigation had revealed that the smoke being emitted is as a result of bush fires in the Gordon Hill, Spring Mount, an area south of John's Hall.
But according to assistant commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) Area 4, Floyd McLean the JFB has not received any reports of fire in John's Hall, at the Retirement dump, or anywhere in that area recently.
“If there is a troubled situation then the fire department would be alerted to say something is burning in the hills and the citizens need help. There have been no reports since last night, since yesterday, since last week: neither dump nor any bush fire up there that could create any kind of problem of that nature. I haven't gotten any report from that area in recent times,” said McLean.
“Last month we had two incidents up the dump but we haven't had any reports from that area since, so I am not sure what the citizens are talking about.”
Bell Envotec, a resident of Black Shop in John's Hall, strongly believes that the smoke nuisance affecting Montego Bay emanates from the burning of bamboo trees in his neck of the woods.
“What is causing the smoke is bush fire, the lighting of bamboo walks in the country areas of Black Shop, Sandiland, Lottery, those areas. The time is dry now and all of the bamboo walks are on fire now. It is going to last for about a week then the whole place burn out,” he told the Observer West.
“The fire brigade can't do nothing; the fire is in the hills. They have to just watch it burn and watch if it is going near to people house. Otherwise, it is just in the hills. This is the first year we see such a big one. Normally, you see it once or twice but right now the whole of them light one time. We used to that every year,” said Envotec.
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