5 Findings From NEPA’s Air Quality Report On The Riverton Fire

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Thick clouds of smoke blanketed the Corporate Area, parts of Portmore and elsewhere in St Catherine for more than a week in March, as the latest fire at the Riverton Solid Waste Disposal Facility burned. There were dramatic images of fainting students being rushed to hospitals for medical assistance, residents of nearby communities donning masks as they went about their business and concern expressed in the newspaper, on broadcast programmes and social media. Jamaicans have been anxiously awaiting the air quality report and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has finally delivered. Here are five quick findings from the report, which can be read in full here.

  1. The fire is ranked as the most detrimental in the history of fires at the Riverton dump, based on its impact on ambient air quality and the zone of influence. Over the first seven days of the fire, ambient air quality with respect to PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns) is categorized as “Very High Risk” according to the Canadian and USEPA Air Quality Index, within a 5km radius of the foci of the fire.
  2. Significantly high 24-hour particulate matter (PM10) readings above the World Health Organization’s 24 hour average standard were recorded at all air monitoring locations for the first eight days of the fire, including the Waterford Fire Station, JPSCO Ltd. Spanish Town Road, Marcus Garvey Drive and as far as College Commons in Mona.
  3. Twenty six volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were detected from the analyses done on the samples collected at the three monitoring locations. Sixteen of these were detected above the lower concentration limit of the analysis method. Benzene and compounds of benzene showed the highest increase in concentration.
  4. The ambient air quality was negatively impacted by elevated concentrations of sulphur dioxide attributable to the fire.  Exceedances of the proposed WHO Air Quality Guideline Value were recorded on 16 out of the 17 days monitored. (It must be noted that these air monitoring stations are all located east of the disposal site, upwind of the strongest prevailing winds. The latest results have revealed a return to ambient concentrations which existed prior to the commencement of the fire.)
  5. NEPA was unable to conduct monitoring on dioxins, furans and other persistent organic pollutants as it currently does not have the necessary equipment to do so.

The associated health and socio-economic impacts of the fire are not included in this report. NEPA advised that those will likely be forthcoming from the Ministry of Health.