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Fire rages at Guanapo Landfill
A fire that has been raging at the Guanapo Landfill in Arima since Thursday evening has sent clouds of foul-smelling smoke as far as Curepe, Tunapuna and Trinicity, leading to fears of environmental problems. The waste management facility was closed to the public, as efforts continued to extinguish the blaze up to late yesterday. Thick clouds of whitish-grey smoke continued to billow out of a mountainous pile of debris at the landfill.
Uche Osuji, general manager of Integrated Waste Systems, the company that runs the Arima facility on behalf of the State-owned T&T Solid Waste Management Company (SWMCOL), insisted yesterday that only non-toxic items were dumped there. However, residents, who said the fire started shortly after 6 pm on Thursday, claimed otherwise.
“Here we have copper, aluminium and plastics...It is not just household waste,” said a resident, who wished to remain unidentified. Speaking over boisterous residents, Osuji insisted that the facility deals only with domestic and household waste. He, however, advised that affected persons take precautions.
“Keep your doors closed and stay indoors, while following normal health and safety procedures,” said Osuji, who did not want to say what caused the fire, but claimed that it was being closely monitored by the company. “We have closed the site to the general public and we are working expeditiously to get the situation under control,” he said.
According to Osuji, the fire should be fully extinguished in a day or two. He said fires at the facility are not unusual. “Typically we try to suffocate the fire with the use of cover material, heavy-lifting equipment and excavators.” He said the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) will be contacted about the fire in due course.
Guanapo community activist Makeda Washington said fires are often started at the landfill to control the large amount of waste dumped there. “Every time that pile gets too high, they set it afire, so they could pack more rubbish into the dump,” she said.
Washington complained about poor waste management at the landfill, which was highlighted in a recent investigative report by Guardian Media Ltd. “At least we did not get affected by all that smoke this time. Is a good thing the wind blowing west today,” Washington said.
Arima MP Rodger Samuel visited the scene yesterday afternoon and spoke with officials at the landfill, as well as residents. “I have been apprised of the situation since it started...I got a lot of phone calls last night from constituents about the effects of the smoke,” he said.
“I have contacted the Fire Service, who told me they could not do much to extinguish the blaze. “They said if they put water on it there would be more smoke.” After a brief tour of the facility and surrounding areas, Samuel acknowledged that the refuse being stored at the facility is not merely domestic.
Unfazed by the fire, salvagers were still seen combing through debris in search of scrap metal. Samuel acknowledged that there is a thriving scrap iron trade around the landfill. “When I was growing up, this place was a valley. Now, it is a mountain. Without these scrap iron dealers this place would have been overflowing into the road years ago,” he said.
Housing and Environment Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.
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