At least 12 fires, burning out of control yesterday amid mounds of rubbish in the Beetham Landfill caused clouds of smoke to blanket the entire city causing a health hazard to thousands who work or attend school in the capital.
“The Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL) is working assiduously with the Fire Service to bring these fires under control and in this regard is receiving valuable support from the Disaster Management Unit of the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation, the Environmental Management Unit (EMA) and the ODPM,” said George Elias, SWMCOL general manager of sales, marketing and communications.
Elias said the fires were unplanned, burning in 12 separate locations and have become “extremely” difficult to control. He added that some of the fires were started on Sunday following a shooting incident near the landfill involving a policeman and a Beetham resident.
Elias said this multi-agency group has initiated plans to conduct air quality testing and an assessment of the health impact. He said the Ministry of National Security has also intensified its security operations in the area to ensure the public is not affected in accessing the Beetham Highway and Priority Bus Route.
“SWMCOL apologises to the national community for the inconvenience and adverse consequences of these fires. Furthermore, SWMCOL is appealing to the many users of the Beetham Landfill to divert to our two other landfill sites at Forres Park and Guanapo in order to assist us in bringing the situation under control in the shortest possible time,” Elias said. Ganga Singh, Minister of Environment and Water Resources said that while SWMCOL falls under the purview of the Ministry of Local Government, he remains very concerned about the fires.
“Port-of-Spain is fogged up. Smoke is enveloping the city and these fires were deliberately set. It is unacceptable...setting fire to the landfill. Certainly I will be in contact with SWMCOL,” Singh said.
Local Government Minster Marlene Coudray told Newsday she is in constant communication with the chairperson of SWMCOL, Nalini Sooklal. Coudray said SWMCOL is doing its best to contain the situation.
Asked about security levels at the landfill, Coudray said, “They (SWMCOL) have been doing their best, but they cannot put security in every inch of the landfill. They are doing their best.”
Dr Stephan Ramroop, CEO of the Office of Disaster, Preparedness and Management (ODPM) said the ODPM was aware of the incident. He said there were no requests for emergency aid. Amrita Maharaj-Dube, corporate communications officer at the EMA said there was a team on site yesterday carrying out investigations. EMA test results on air quality are pending. Officials at schools in and around the city were allowed to send students home early, Yolanda Morales-Carvalho, media relations officer at the Ministry of Education, said yesterday.
“The schools are not closed, but some schools were affected and the schools closest to the area were allowed to send their students home,” Morales-Carvalho said.
Students of Tranquility Secondary, Beetham Government Primary, Nelson Street Boys’ RC, Success Laventille Secondary, Tranquility Government Primary and South East Port-of- Spain Secondary were all sent home early.
“Both teachers and students complained of smoke-filled classrooms, breathing problems and burning throats and eyes,” said Lynsley Doodhai, second vice-president of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA).
The students of Tranquility Secondary and Primary schools were affected by the smoke despite the schools being located on Victoria Avenue, Newtown. The smoke also affected businesses including operations at National Petroleum (NP) Head Office off the Beetham Highway which was closed for the day.
A release from NP said that fuel delivery to their service station network was not affected at this time; however, there were no further sales of Liquid Petroleum Gas cylinders from that location for the remainder of the day. Up to seven o’clock last night, the smell of smoke was still pervasive in the capital.