EDITORIAL – Required reading for landfill neighbors (i.e. most of us)

“Exposure to [hydrogen sulfide], a tracer of airborne contamination from landfills, was associated with lung cancer mortality as well as with mortality and morbidity for respiratory diseases.”
– “Morbidity and mortality of people who live close to municipal waste landfills: a multisite cohort study,” International Journal of Epidemiology

The Cayman Islands government might prefer that voters forget about the existence of the George Town Landfill and the latent health threats it poses. We doubt that will happen.

After all, as Caymanians cross its shadow on the busy Esterley Tibbetts Highway, its odor and unsightliness serve as a daily reminder of the Progressives’ broken campaign promise that they had a solution to the landfill problem that would be executed soon after they entered office. That promise was begat out of political expediency, one that justified the parochial outcry, “No Dump in Bodden Town.”

Three years later, the dump doesn’t seem to be going anywhere (except upward). It was one of the defining issues of the last election, as it will be in the next.

A recently published study out of Italy, the conclusion of which we cited above, followed more than 242,000 people who lived within three miles of landfills in that country. Researchers found an association between exposure to landfill pollutants and increased risks of dying of lung cancer and respiratory diseases, as well as hospital admissions for respiratory diseases, “especially in children.”

(For reference, a circle with a radius of three miles centered on the George Town Landfill would encompass Camana Bay, Industrial Park, the Ritz-Carlton, Governors Creek, all of downtown George Town, the South Church Street area, South Sound and Grand Harbour.)

From nearly every vantage point on a four-point Cayman compass – health, the environment, tourism and politics – the landfill continues to cast a dark and ominous presence over our island.

We recall several examples in literature – for instance, Egdon Heath in Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native,” or Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl in Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano” – where the “main character” of the narrative, arguably, isn’t a person at all.

Rather, it is a significant physical feature – the Bluff on the Brac might qualify – that provides a canvas, a tapestry, a tableau upon which people play out their daily lives. Hardy’s “untameable” heath, or Lowry’s threatening twin volcanoes, certainly influence (and maybe even dictate) the lives of humans exposed to them.

In the same allegorical way, Cayman’s always-growing and always-decaying heap of refuse is a leading character in the unfolding narrative of the Cayman Islands. Think of the landfill as a beast which must be slain – lest it slay us with its fumes, with its fires, with its toxins.

In the three years since the Progressives cavalierly tossed aside the Dart Group’s offer to remedy the landfill, our officials have had some success in deflecting the issue of the still-unlined, still-combustible dump with a masquerade of studies, reports and field trips. But at more than 80 feet in height (the highest terrestrial point on Grand Cayman), the dump itself cannot be hidden.

With less than a year until the next election, perhaps the Progressives could begin to think creatively and hire yet one more consultant, maybe the only one who could make something as big as Mount Trashmore disappear: David Copperfield.

No, not David Copperfield, the Charles Dickens’ character; David Copperfield the magician.