Jamaican government officials have shown too ready a tendency to shoot from the lip and aim right at their own feet over the latest Riverton fire. They used to say that “loose lips sink ships” or “careless talk costs lives”. That related to letting secrets slip during the war. But in the battle to reassure a population that things are under control, the performance of the mouth pieces have been abjectly poor. 

How the health ministry spokesperson could say so confidently that there would be no long term health effects defies reason. We know there is no control of what goes to the dump and that many items that are known toxins are just tossed there. We await the air quality reports from Canada, but we know that the city has been living under a heavy cloud of noxious fumes. 

I drove west out of Kingston on Friday and again today. I stopped at gas stations on Washington Boulevard both mornings. I have never breathed air like it. It’s visibly dark and smells foul.

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Mandela Highway shrouded in smoke

People walked with masks, but a mere handful. Most went without. Those working or going to school or just walking in the area are not breathing air that is vaguely clean. It’s disturbing that there is not a mobile respiratory unit anywhere to be seen. It’s bothersome that no one seems to monitor the general population, despite checking those who visit clinics. Just taking the random selection of people who move along the boulevard west toward Hydel Schools and you have population that must exhibit respiratory problems in the near future. If a map of the smoke and its contents and spread were to be shared, I imagine people might get mildly panicked. No one is sitting comfortably. I even heard how bad it was high into the Blue Mountains.

It’s in the air and it must enter the soil and thus the food chain. It’s a disaster that bodes a crisis.

While it’s hard to not listen with incredulity to the reasoning of the PM, or her just-returned Minister of Local Government, who seemed paralysed into inaction because Japan–where he was visiting–is “far away”. Clearly, reasoning and modern technology have become a challenge for ministers, which suggests that they will have a hard time processing the problems we face and coming up with solutions that make sense.

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Washington Boulevard shrouded in smoke

The ‘food chain’ that the chicanery of illicit and explicit activities at Riverton represent is one littered with poisoned fruit. Now, we are amongst those who must eat the poison. The little hustlers who try to find copper to sell from the dump and the truckers who live off moving dirt to cover the dump don’t care that food in their bellies comes at the expense of the general health of people they don’t see or know. But, the scorpion knows no friends. The port closed, so goods were shipped elsewhere. That will ratchet up prices or reduce supplies or both. The ground is being poisoned and the little scraps that feed chickens that will feed many later, because we need to ban imports of US chickens, will be injested and make us sick. Our water is being polluted by the smoke contents that re-enter as rain to feed our reservoirs. There are other effects.

No short-term health effects? In the long-run, we’re all dead, so I understand the logic, now.

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