St. Maarten landfill puts public health “in peril”

St. Maarten landfill fire. Image: via St. Maarten Daily Herald.
Air pollution

Following a recent Green Antilles post about the recurring fires at the Riverton landfill in Jamaica, a reader brought to my attention the ongoing landfill woes in St. Maarten. The most recent fire at the Pond Island landfill occurred just days ago, leading to public health advisories for communities nearby.

In the early morning hours of Friday, August 31st a section on the eastern side of the Irma landfill caught fire. Immediately personnel from VROMI’s department of Public Works were notified and along with members of the Fire Department responded to the blaze. All worked hard to control the blaze and just before dawn the “all clear” was given as it was the belief that the fire had been appropriately extinguished.

This unfortunately was not the case, and in the early morning hours of Saturday, September 1st the blaze reignited. Once again, VROMI staff responded and with the assistance of the Fire Department were able to control the blaze. There however is still a large amount of smoke emanating from the site that is expected to grow smaller in the coming days as the fire fully burns out.

So far this year there have been previous major fire incidents in May and in February. The fires in February were so severe that schools and offices were closed, and people living near the landfill had to be temporarily evacuated

St. Maarten’s landfill problems have been brought to the attention of the Dutch Parliament, which has pledged assistance, but has also reiterated that solid waste manaagement is an autonomous affair of the country St. Maarten, requiring local government responsibility and action. From the St. Maarten Daily Herald:

[Dutch] State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops … said he had made very clear during his two visits to St. Maarten this month that it was the local government that had to respond to this very urgent matter. The Dutch government has offered expertise to speed up the process of sanitising the landfill, which will be a long-term affair. Cooperation with the French side has been sought.

The political will is needed to solve the waste management issue in a sustainable manner. Doing so will involve setting up a waste management system, and that system will have a price tag. St. Maarten’s waste management, including the collection of trash, has always been free of charge. “Dumping trash never comes without cost. Free doesn’t exist,” said Knops.

He implied that this will have to change in order to pay for sanitation of the landfill and to secure proper waste management in the future. This will require political commitment. “The local government will have to explain to the people that the waste management system costs money.”

Knops explained to the MPs during Thursday’s meeting why it was so important to act quickly and diligently in this matter: “Public health is in peril. People are suffering from the toxic fumes. It is already hard to spend a few hours in it, let alone having to live in it the entire day. We have to act swiftly.”

[Image: via the St. Maarten Daily Herald]

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