Landfill fires: A reminder from Antigua

Landfill fires: A reminder from Antigua

27 August 2015

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Antigua/Burmuda– Island residents are questioning the management of their country’s landfill, following a blaze that ignited amid a colossal mound of millions of used tires, emitting plumes of noxious black smoke and sparking fears of environmental contamination from the oil and chemicals produced by burning synthetic rubber.

News reports indicate the millions of used tires have been accumulating at the landfill site for years, despite assurances from government authorities as far back as 2011 that they were “on the brink of finalizing a deal to have them removed.”

To our readers in Grand Cayman, who surely remember the massive tire fire that occurred here in late December 2013 (and subsequent blazes over the next year and a half) — don’t worry, it remains safe, for now, to keep your windows open and let the fresh breezes waft softly in. The incident to which we refer did not occur at the George Town landfill (or the dumps in Cayman Brac or Little Cayman, either), but at the Cooks landfill on the northwest coast of Antigua.

Antigua, like Cayman, is plagued with an overabundance of used tires, which in addition to constituting a ready supply of fuel for an impromptu inferno, also exist more passively as an incubator of mosquitoes and sanctum for vermin. However, unlike Cayman, and this is to Antigua’s credit, the Cooks landfill is a properly lined and relatively new facility — in this way it is far superior to Cayman’s landfills, which in layman’s terms are heaps of garbage sitting in direct contact with the bare ground.

(In a stroke of irony, reports indicate that near the opening of the Cooks landfill in spring 2005, an out-of-control brush fire spread to the new landfill, causing significant damage to the high-density polyethylene landfill liner, which, according to the government, “proved highly flammable and difficult to extinguish.”)

We highlight our Caribbean neighbor’s problems with landfill fires not for the purpose of reveling in schadenfreude about what has happened over there, but as a reminder — or a warning — of what could very well happen over here … again … at any moment.

The George Town landfill last caught fire in March of this year. In mid-June, Cayman Islands government consultants released a preliminary report saying that the George Town landfill should be capped and remediated, that the tires and scrap metal should be removed, and that residents should have to pay for waste disposal. The consultants also suggested exploring waste-to-energy technology, but warned that would not eliminate entirely the need to landfill materials.

All of those points are valid, but none of them are new. We’ve heard nothing more from government since then, while the clock continues to tick — taking us further from the May 2013 elections, after which the newly installed Progressives-led government officially spurned the Dart Group’s $60 million offer to fix the George Town landfill once and for all, and closer to the May 2017 elections, when the Progressives will be held accountable by voters for their accomplishments (or lack thereof).

It’s much more pleasant to spend time contemplating new ports, airports and other attractive projects, but, lest we forget, our festering landfill remains Cayman’s most-pressing — and most threatening — infrastructural and environmental issue.

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