Equally unhealthy, and perhaps even more so, is the smoke produced by open burning of garbage and garden waste. Very few people, including the police, seem to know that this also is against the law and that there is a $50,000.00 fine for offenders. If they know it’s against the law, they also know that the chance of being convicted and fined is almost zero. In Jamaica, it is a common cultural practice instilled in children from an early age. They are exhorted to “Clean up the yard and burn the trash.” Those who indulge in this practice seem to be in blissful ignorance of the dangers of breathing in the smoke.
This practice of open burning isn’t limited to individuals, but is also carried on by organizations and companies. After bushing the area around the sewage ponds in Montego Bay, workers employed to the National Water Commission burn the trash. More serious, I observed open burning of garbage, which probably contains plastics, at the Sangster International Airport. Their incinerator looks like a derelict heap of rusted metal.
The following information about the dangers of open burning were sent to me by Diana McCaulay of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) 11 Waterloo Road, Kingston 10, Jamaica; Phone: (876) 960-3693
WHAT ARE THE POLLUTANTS AND WHERE ARE THEY PRODUCED?
Depending on what is burned: soot and other particulate matter, carbon monoxide, methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) including poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), carbonyls, lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDDs/Fs). Many of these substances are known carcinogens.
WHY IS OPEN BURNING HARMFUL?
Open burning emissions are released at or near ground levels where people live and work, instead of through tall stacks which aid dispersion. Open fires can affect large areas and persist for a long time.
Technologies to clean up emissions cannot be used for open burning.
SURELY THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO ORGANIC MATERIAL LIKE CROPS AND
It does. Specifically, biomass fires typically emit 10 VOCs, 12 SVOCs, 15 Carbonyls, and 2 PCDDs/Fs.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH IMPACTS OF OPEN BURNING?
Increased infant mortality, low birth weight of babies, onset of childhood asthma, coughs, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, burning in eyes nose and throat, dizziness, weakness, confusion, nausea, disorientation, exposure to known carcinogens. While the seriousness of these depends on how close people are to fires, how long fires persist and the number of fires people are exposed to open burning increases risk of death among the general population, particularly the elderly, children, and those with preexisting respiratory and cardiac illnesses.
I am sure that some of the increase in the incidence of asthma, sinusitis and lung cancer can be attributed to open burning as well as to the smoking of tobacco.
We should all stop open burning – the unenclosed combustion of materials, and the burning of waste of all types.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO INSTEAD?
· Reduce waste,
o especially plastic bottles. Let’s put a cess on all plastic bottles. If you can afford to buy something in a plastic bottle, you can afford Ja$5.00 at time of purchase and get it back later. If you don’t want to return the plastic bottle, someone else will.
o composting kitchen and garden waste. This doesn’t have to be high tech. Some fancy bins are sold for composting, but even in a small yard, you can fence off, or mark off an area, or dig a hole where you deposit kitchen waste, and cover it with dead leaves or grass clippings. Add layers of kitchen waste and garden trash. You may need to water (with used water!) it in the dry season. Nature will do the rest. You can turn the pile after about 3 months and start a new one. The speed of breakdown of compost in Jamaica never ceases to amaze me. You can mix the resulting compost with soil for growing plants.
|This banana had its roots in a compost heap|
· as a last resort bury non hazardous waste far away from water sources.