The Environmental Management Authority must step in now to ensure the health and environmental protection of the Springvale community and other areas affected by an outbreak of fires and persistent smoke emanating from the Forres Park Landfill.

On Tuesday, smoke engulfed the area to the point where the Springvale Hindu Primary School and the Springvale Government Early Childhood Care and Education Centre had to be closed early because of the distress to children and staff, especially those suffering from asthma and other breathing problems. For all residents, living with incessant smoke from the landfill makes life difficult.

The Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (SWMCOL), which operates the landfill, said air quality tests did not find any level of toxicity to have been exceeded. It is unclear which agency conducted the tests. However, in this situation one would expect the EMA to be in the field and alerting the community of potential risks. Those risks are instead on its website where the Air Quality reading at 6 p.m. yesterday at San Fernando which is downwind of the Forres Park Landfill was in the orange zone with a reading of 120. At this level “sensitive groups” are warned of an “increasing likelihood of respiratory symptoms, such as chest tightness and breathing discomfort, in people with asthma” who are advised to consider limiting outdoor exertion. North of the Landfill at Pt Lisas air quality was better with a moderate reading 64 with the caution that respiratory symptoms were possible in “unusually sensitive individuals” with “possible aggravation of heart or lung disease in people with cardiopulmonary disease and older adults”.

One of the serious deficits in this country is the lack of data tracking the impact of various phenomena on public health over a sustained period of time. Such data is necessary for establishing whether there is any correlation between various levels of exposure to smoke from landfills, in particular the Beetham and Forres Park Landfills, and certain health conditions.

One would imagine that this would be a priority for public health authorities in a country with a high incidence of heart disease and cancer, both of which are linked to ingested pollution and other environmental conditions.

The larger question is the future of these two landfills which operate within polluting reach of settled communities. According to SWMCOL official David Manswell, a permanent solution to the problem is an engineered landfill. This modern type of landfill is designed to isolate landfills from the environment and to render waste harmless through biological, chemical, and physical treatments.

Assuming this is the plan, the question is what happens between now and then regarding the protection of human health and the environment? The Springvale community and its Hindu School goes back long before 1983 when the Forres Park Landfill came into operation, which raises the question whether it should even have been located there.

Residents should not be at the mercy of the bureaucracy to determine how long they must put up with this troubling state of affairs. They need clear answers and solutions to this problem now.

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