GT landfill: 
A smoky reminder of promises past

What we’ve seen (and smelled) this weekend from the smoldering, smoking George Town landfill is the gentlest of reminders that the government has taken no effective action to address the greatest threat to public health in the Cayman Islands.

Yes, Health Minister Osbourne Bodden formed a 16-member committee to navigate the U.K.-supervised procurement process to bring about an “integrated solid waste management solution” across all three islands.

Yes, the committee released a “strategic outline case” in late May, predicting a fix would cost more than $100 million and take five years to bring about.

Yes, the government has diverted some funds and earmarked others to ensure the Department of Environmental Health has adequate equipment and personnel to operate the landfill on a daily basis.

And, yes, in early June Minister Bodden altered his timeline script verbally when he told his fellow lawmakers the solid waste project could be finished as soon as mid-2017.

But, no – as the thousands who had the misfortune to be within sniffing distance are already aware – none of those official statements, policy proposals or cosmetic modifications could prevent Grand Cayman’s landfill from bursting into flames and spewing toxic smoke across our island, yet again.

Nor could they be expected to; there is simply too much trash in Mount Trashmore, and all of those government “actions” together didn’t prevent one ounce of garbage from being tossed on top of the heap.

This weekend’s conflagration was another one of those dangerous, “deep-seated” fires, according to Acting Fire Chief Roy Grant, who said on Sunday, “It has been burning underneath the landfill, and we just have to keep digging until we come to the end of the vein and the fire is completely out … when that is going to be, we don’t really know.”

Mr. Grant, of course, was talking about his firefighters’ tactical approach to battling a blaze of unknowable dimensions, but he may as well have been attempting to encapsulate the government’s overall strategy on dealing with the dump: Keep picking away in ad hoc fashion until the public’s attention begins to wane. Then when the topic again catches fire, release another flurry of statements and reports, for the sake of maintaining political appearances at least.

According to the “Anticipated Project Timeline” in the strategic outline case, the government currently is seeking proposals from consultants to create a strategy and “outline business case” for a waste management solution.

The government plans to award the consultants’ contract by September, with the strategy and business case being published and approved sometime before July 2015 – a full year from now.
Where is the urgency?

After that, the timeline gets fuzzier, with actual works to start in 2017 and new operations to begin in 2019, perhaps.

Meanwhile, the dump continues to burn from the inside out. The landfill will not allow itself to be forgotten, and the Compass will not allow the people of Cayman to forget that the Progressives repeatedly proclaimed on the campaign trail that they had a ready solution for the dump, and one of their first acts upon taking office more than one year ago was to spurn the Dart Group’s $60 million deal to close and remediate the George Town landfill and construct a properly lined waste management facility in the far east corner of the district of Bodden Town.

Here’s a mental exercise worth practicing: Each time you drive by the dump, take a deep breath. Allow your olfactory receptors to take in the putridity of the atmosphere. Then, remind yourself of the promises made by the Progressives politicians.

What really may be going up in flames are the re-election chances of those non-Bodden Towners who, in the need to form a government, supported the parochial district pledge of “No Dump in Bodden Town.”

They have much to answer for, and the smell and the smoke of the landfill are unpleasant and unhealthy reminders.


  1. The whole timeline seems to be strategically designed to allow new promises of a dump solution right around the next election. These politicians are clever people.

  2. It must be nice to have your cake and eat it too. That’s what the Compass seems to enjoy doing.

    On the one hand, government moves too slow — there’s too much procedure, too much inefficiency, things take to long, so you blast the government for that.

    Of course, the flip side is that when government acts without taking a long time, and the projects are ineffective or more expensive than anticipated, you blast them for that as well.

    I like the Compass editorial board holds the government accountability for its actions. That’s one of the most important roles of a free press. With that said, there has to be a balance. If you blast them now for moving too slowly in accordance with their procedures, don’t blast them for the budget woes that come with not having had those procedures in place. Of course, when they follow the procedures, are slow, and still come in over budget, by all means blast away.

  3. I do hope that the firefighters and landfill workers at least aware of the hazards to their long-term health and welfare. At most, they should be notified in writing about it. Does Fire Department have training standards and procedures in place? Does the training include hazardous materials? What standards and regulations apply to the Fire Service? Do they have Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health? Are they legally binding?
    GIG can potentially face huge liability in the future.
    101 course on dioxins:
    The World Health Organization considers dioxins released from landfill fires to contaminate soil and water and that contaminated soil should be treated and detoxified or removed and stored under environmentally sound conditions.Studies done on dioxins and furans when attached to dust particles will bioaccumulate on land and in the sea and persist FOR YEARS.
    Chronic exposure to dioxins are known to increase the risk of cancer, liver damage, skin rash, reproductive issues and development disorders in exposed populations. Children and fetuses are especially vulnerable to to dioxin contaminants due to their rapid growth and development.
    Dioxins enter the food chain and accumulate in the fatty tissues of fish, in meat and in dairy products and humans bioaccumulate dioxins when they eat contaminated foods. Dioxins can also be found in the peel and on the inner surface of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. The high uptake is associated with the percentage of fat naturally present in many fruits and vegetables the higher the fat content, the higher the dioxin levels will be.It also seems that cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins have a. rather high uptake and a wider transfer in the plant.Eggs produced by free range poultry may also contain high dioxins chickens pick up contaminants from the soil.
    What is the extent of possible dioxin and furan contamination in Grand Cayman?
    Dioxins accumulate in human body fat increasing the risk of cancer, reproductive issues, developmental problems, immunological disorders, and endocrine effects.Dioxins can also be found in breast milk, the levels depending upon the fat content of the milk the higher the fat content, the higher the dioxin levels.

  4. While I understand Steven’s comments and concerns, I still find it reasonable to expect nothing but the best from the highly paid politicians that are elected to their posts by people who expect them to be willing and able to make the best decisions for the entire country and that includes being able to act on the needs of the country in a timely and financially justifiable way. So in my opinion, yes, they are at fault if they act too fast and waste a ton of money on something that doesn’t work as well as if they delay things year after year reinventing the wheel looking for a solution, especially when they publicly claimed that solutions already existed.
    The the person responsible cannot deal with these expectations, they are in the wrong line of work.

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