The health impacts and the toxicity of smoke from fires at the George Town landfill are unknown due to a lack of air sampling equipment, the head of the department in charge of the dump has told legislators.
Roydell Carter, director of the Department of Environmental Health, told lawmakers that the smoke from fires at Mount Trashmore can potentially impact health, but the extent of that harm has not been measured. However, the department plans to acquire equipment that will be able to monitor air quality in the event of fires, he said.
Mr. Carter was responding to a query from George Town MLA Winston Connolly, who asked: “Talking about air quality, when we had the recent fires and the smoke and fumes coming from [the landfill], I had constituents to the south west of that complaining that it was a bit overbearing …. Is that smoke harmful toxic and what are the health concerns when the landfill burns?”
Mr. Carter told him that “one of the reasons the Department of Environmental Health tries to restrict burning of household waste is that any smoke has the potential to affect health.”
Following two serious fires at dump in December 2013 and in February this year, the Cayman Compass contacted an overseas landfill fire analyst, Todd Thalhamer of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a body of the U.S. government created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment, to find out the possible health impact of fires at the dump.
“When landfills catch fire, they do produce toxic smoke. The question is, without air sampling of the smoke, you can’t make the determination if it is a health concern,” said Mr. Thalhamer, who provides technical assessment and analysis for landfill fires and gas control systems for the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Thalhamer also said that all smoke is toxic and definitely a health concern.
Mr. Carter said he believed the billows of smoke that emanated from the dump could be of greater risk to residents who were more “sensitive,” with a “compromised immune system” or “not fully functional.” However, he said he was unaware of “the specifics of it,” so could not comment further.
To further assess the toxicity of the air and the health concerns posed during a fire, Mr. Carter said the Department of Environmental Health had plans “to acquire proper ambient air quality monitoring systems so that we will be able to respond and test those things,” he said.
The National Ambient Air Quality Standards are standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect human health.
Checking wells near dump
While the Department of Environmental Health has not done air testing during any of the fires at the landfill, testing has been conducted on a number of monitoring wells surrounding the solid waste facility in George Town.
“There are number of monitoring wells that were put in place around the solid waste facility in George Town back in the early 1990’s,” North Side MLA Ezzard Miller said at the Legislative Assembly. “How often are these wells monitored and what are the results recently?” he queried.
Mr. Carter responded that water in the wells were tested “at least annually.”
“We have been monitoring those at least annually, and the parameters that we use are similar to the U.S. EPA regulations for such realms. The testing is actually done overseas at an approved laboratory. All of the results so far are within the established parameters of the U.S. EPA,” he said.
The finance committee of the Legislative Assembly was told that government intends to spend just under $3.2 million in the collection, recycling, and disposal of solid waste at the landfill this year.