May 10, 2021

‘Long-term health issues’ Human rights chiefs’ stark dump smoke warning

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Northern Arizona University

By Gemma Handy From Turks & Caicos Weekly News

By Gemma HandyCHOKING fumes from Providenciales’ dire dumpsite forced children to be sent home from school this week – as human rights chiefs warned of “lethal” health impacts from chronic ongoing blazes.

Pupils at TCIPS Comprehensive High School in Academy Drive reported feeling unwell due to pungent smoke which Government officials blamed on arson. 

The latest infernos which simmered for several days sending plumes of noxious smog over nearby housing estates once again caused misery for local residents.

The two Priton Homes developments – where dozens of families with young children live – are particularly susceptible to the impact of the fires.

Problems with dump blazes were ongoing for several years before the Government handed responsibility for the site to a private company in 2012.

But the tribulations were reignited when the contract with Turks and Caicos Environmental Management (TCEM) expired in October.
“It has been horrible,” one Belglade Parker Gardens mother told the Weekly News. 

Since there has not been much wind this winter, from sundown to sunrise a smog settles over the neighbourhood at least a couple of days a week.”

Another resident reported being unable to see outside for more than an hour on one occasion this week. 

And a father at phase two of the Priton scheme said the family was forced to keep windows and doors shut for two days amid fears for their 20-month-old baby.

Other neighbours have reported being kept awake at night coughing, along with pungent smells clinging to their clothes and furniture.

On Tuesday (February 5), TCEM bosses issued a statement after multiple inquiries from the public and media. While sympathetic to residents’ plight, the company said it was powerless to help.

TCEM handed control of both the Providenciales and Grand Turk dumps back to the Government on October 28 last year. 

“TCEM has had zero involvement with the management or operation of the facilities from that date,” the statement continued, adding: “We are deeply empathetic to the residents affected, but we cannot speak to the cause of this fire nor the efforts of the Government to combat it or mitigate its impacts.”

Meanwhile, health and environment chiefs also faced a backlash from the Human Rights Commission which sent out a lengthy statement on Wednesday accusing them of a gross dereliction of duty.

“There have been many allegations for these fires, such as poor management, illegal immigrants burning coal kilns, to malicious sabotage, but ultimately, whatever the cause, it is Government’s responsibility to resolve this matter expeditiously,” it read.
Emissions from the blazes are “potentially lethal with well-proven acute and chronic health impacts”.

Burning tyres “emit dioxins and benzene derivatives which have been linked with reproductive impairment and cancer in humans,” the statement continued.

While the current administration is making a “huge environmental stride” banning single use plastics, “what of the devastating environmental conditions threatening the health of the residents of Blue Hills, Wheeland?” the commission chided.
Particularly concerning is the “deteriorating health of children with asthma”. 

“Among the health impacts of landfill fires are both cancer and higher mortality rates for pregnant mothers and babies,” it continued.

“It’s not just the smoke that’s the problem but what that smoke contains. There is the potential here for residents of the area to experience long-term health issues as a consequence of these potential pollutants. These fires are not just an inconvenience; they are a well-established threat to life.”

The strongly-worded report demanded the Government take immediate action, saying it had a responsibility under international and domestic law to find a permanent solution to “protect the lives and livelihoods of the residents and their children”.

On Thursday (February 7), local MP Delroy Williams sent “sincerest apologies” to constituents for the fumes that lingered for almost a week.

Security staff have been posted at the site to deter arsonists, he said, adding that residents’ health and wellbeing were of “utmost importance”.

“We will be relentless in our commitment to ensuring there are significant and effective improvements in the systems in place to manage the facility,” Williams said.

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