MONTEGO BAY, St James — Pledging to continue efforts to mitigate fires at the country’s disposal sites, executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) Audley Gordon is urging that citizens also play an active role by carefully containerizing their waste.
“We are doing our utmost best to make sure that the things that are likely to come to the disposal site [and] cause fire are identified as quickly as possible, and for that we are saying to our sanitation workers that when you go to collect the garbage be very vigilant as to what we are taking up because there are times when people will be burning coal or other debris at home and they just rake it up,” Gordon told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.
“It is not like they are malicious or setting out to do any harm, they just don’t know, sometimes. But when they rake it up there is still sparks or little pieces of fire there. It may appear still and sometimes all it takes is a little wind to reignite,” the solid waste boss continued.
Gordon’s call comes against the background of a recent two-week-old fire at the Retirement disposal site in St James, which emitted smoke across neighboring communities. He told the Observer that this has since been contained and the solid waste team is actively working against a recurrence of this nuisance.
“We were able in the last week to put the smoke out totally at the Retirement disposal facility, and we are hoping that going forward into the holiday season we don’t have any more such disturbances,” Gordon said.
While acknowledging the concerns raised about the frequent fires at the country’s disposal sites, Gordon explained that a breakdown of equipment played a major role in the length of time it took to contain the recent dump fire in Retirement. He further told the Observer that the NSWMA also faced difficulties when it attempted to “act quickly” in acquiring the assistance of a contracted equipment owner.
“Like most of the country, we are very concerned whenever there is any disturbance, whether through fire or otherwise, at any of our disposal sites. We try to tighten up on the management of our facilities and in the last few years we have managed to keep relatively quiet disposal facilities, not to say that there are not time-to-time issues with spontaneous combustions and other disturbances, but we have managed to put them out fairly quickly,” Gordon said.
He added, “We can’t guarantee that there will not be a fire, but we try to mitigate against fires by spreading and compacting as frequently as we can. Now, to do this we need reliable heavy-duty equipment in the disposal facilities. But, sometimes, like all other machines, including your private motorcar, you will have some downtime and these are not scheduled downtime.”
“Something can just happen and a piece of equipment will go down, and when that happens you find that it creates major dislocation for us to get a substitute piece of equipment and it is not easy because you don’t have a lot of heavy-duty equipment parked around the place waiting on a call from the NSWMA,” Gordon told the Observer.
Additionally, the executive director noted that independent factors have also negatively affected the continued efforts of the solid waste authority. He said that while the country’s disposal sites are managed by the NSWMA, private, contracted companies and citizens also have access to the areas.
“We want to be very vigilant, but the challenge with that, though, is we do not control all the garbage that comes into the disposal site because there are private trucks that also come in. So we are asking everybody else who has to move solid waste to our disposal facility to be careful and observe what they are bringing into the facility,” he said.
Maintaining that fires at disposal sites are inevitable “because what we operate… produces a lot of gases that compete with each other”, Gordon said the NSWMA has invested a lot of manpower to curb the frequency of these dump fires.
“What we try to do is make sure that in all our doing we spread and compact the garbage as frequently as possible, and we try to have enough equipment as is required for a particular site,” he said, while explaining that the amount of equipment readily available at each of the country’s four disposal sites may differ.
“In Riverton we usually try to have at least three pieces of equipment there at all times, [while] in Retirement, we also try to have three pieces, but sometimes we have breakdowns for one reason or the other,” Gordon said.
Sharing that the NSWMA has also been the victim of sabotage “on one or more occasions” at the various disposal sites, the executive director urged that these people “be good neighbours” and desist from carrying out this act.
“I am not so naïve to believe that you don’t have people who try to sabotage our facility, and we have seen that on one or more occasions. We don’t want anybody to think that is cool. That is not cool, because when you disturb our facility for whatever reason, you create a smoke nuisance that will go out there and cause respiratory problems for your brothers and sisters. We are supposed to be good neighbours and we want to be treating people the way we want to be treated. Don’t light our disposal facility because that hurts all of us,” Gordon appealed.