The fire is not yet out, and many Kingston residents continue to suffer tonight. Firefighters continue to work on subduing and containing the fire, which is now in its third day. WMW Jamaica (formerly Women’s Media Watch, and celebrating its 30th anniversary this year) has written a letter to the Editor regarding the health impacts of the fire, in particular on women. Our damaged and polluted environment is affecting us all – the most vulnerable among us more than ever. This includes, I might add, our senior citizens as well as women, children and economically marginalized residents. Please read WMW’s letter below.
July 31st, 2018
As the haze of smoke fills the air and the smell of burning waste fills our lungs, our attention once again turns to the burning Riverton Dump. On Sunday, July 29th, acres went ablaze requiring the response of the York and Half-Way Tree fire stations and National Solid Waste Management Authority. While the event is being reported with reference to the cost of the fire for taxpayers and environmental mismanagement, WMW Jamaica, formerly Women’s Media Watch Jamaica, encourages the use of a gender lens to analyze the impact on women, children, and vulnerable groups.
Taking a gender perspective to waste management is key as the very idea of what waste is can differ between women and men. Attitudes towards public health and community cleanliness can also differ between the sexes. As women typically manage households and household wastes, it is important to empower women and ensure they have access to proper waste disposal and recycling.
The Riverton Dump is a serious public health concern that overwhelmingly impacts the most vulnerable. Poor solid waste management, especially the burning of the waste, generates toxic gases such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter in the air and volatile organic compounds. These gases, as well as heavy metals, also contaminate surface and groundwater. Additionally, inadequate solid waste management can attract flies, mosquitoes, and rats which is a breeding ground for diarrheal disease, dengue, yellow fever, and leptospirosis. Poorly managed waste can block drains, cause flooding, and lead to the destruction of infrastructure, particularly in the most vulnerable communities.
The air quality in Jamaica has also deteriorated. From 2010 to 2015, PM2.5 (atmospheric particulate matter) increased from 14 micrograms per cubic meter to 17 micrograms. This is above the World Health Organization guidelines. Burning of polystyrene containers – including foam cups, egg containers, and food trays, release dioxins which are one of the most toxic substances to humans. The burning of plastics can increase the risk of heart disease, aggravate respiratory ailments, cause rashes, nausea, headaches, and damage nervous systems, kidneys, livers, and reproductive systems.
Riverton receives 60% of all the waste produced in Jamaica. This is roughly 250 truckloads per day. This figure is expected to increase. From 2001 to 2015, there has been one fire annually in the Riverton Dump. This negatively impacts those living in the surrounding areas of St. Andrew and St. Catherine, with 22% of the population at a very high health risk. This accounts for 10% of the entire Jamaican population.
Children are overwhelmingly impacted by the Riverton fires as their bodies are developing. Approximately 241,000 children live near the Riverton Dump. In the 2015 Riverton Dump fire, 3,314 patients were seen at hospitals, the majority being children. Additionally, toxins can accumulate in pregnant women and transfer to infants through the placenta. Those with existing respiratory illnesses such as asthma or chronic lung disease are also more vulnerable; this is exacerbated if health services cannot be accessed. Those that are more vulnerable include persons in rural areas, living with disabilities, those with low economic means, and women and children who cannot access the health care system or stay inside when there is a fire.
WMW recommends reducing, reusing and recycling programs that target household and community levels as well as the national level. Women and community groups can mobilize to dispose of waste and recycled plastics. The burning and burying of waste should be eliminated while ensuring waste is properly sorted, recycled and disposed of. The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has a free recycling depot and recommends other recycling programs on their website in Kingston and throughout Jamaica. As 62% of solid waste is compostable, composting programs in communities would also help reduce waste.
Taking into account gender issues in environmental management will lead to a more inclusive, clean, and sustainable place for all Jamaicans.
Patricia Donald Phillips (Ms), BA (Theo), MA (CSBC)
Promoting Gender Equality and Gender Equity
3 South Avenue, Swallowfield, Kingston 5, Jamaica
Tel: (876) 881-5177; 616-6289; 616-6295
Facebook and Twitter @WMWJamaica