Things I want to shout about: everything I learn on Community Health

The Riverton City dump is a hot mess. Literally. It’s a hot mess that has outlived its life a thousand times over, like the ancient has-been who refuses to retire. Riverton started out at the same height as the rest of Kingston and St. Andrew and it now overlooks the sprawling plains of Jamaica’s capital. Layers of garbage are thrown down year after year, getting pressed into the earth by giant rollers. But now all the rollers are broken and the garbage, still being thrown down, has begun to pile up.

Lined with waterproof materials such as clay or plastic Natural clay liner of approximately 1.5m thick
Leachate management system NONE
Onsite operations – disposal, storage, formal sorting Onsite operations – disposal, storage, informal sorting
Daily covering of waste Covering of waste does not occur daily
Use of landfill equipment: compactors, tractors, bulldozers, tyre balers Use of [poorly maintained] landfill equipment: compactors, tractors, bulldozers, tyre balers
Clear separation of waste at tipping faces Separation of waste to some extent
Environmental monitoring – leachate and gas monitoring wells Monitoring wells for leachate only
Controlled access and egress Access and egress under limited control
Safety and directional signs Safety and directional signs
Ample security Limited security

This table borrowed without permission from Norbert Campbell of UWI, Mona. [My edits].

Let me give you a hint: it is NOT a day at the zoo.

In the midst of the sprawling one man’s trash landscape is Tyre City. Bales of tyres piled higher than a man’s shoulders sit grinning, a fire hazard to the whole facility and breeding ground for the infamous Portmore mosquitoes. The tyres are sometimes sent to individuals or companies who landscape, or to people fixing roads, but these tyres have been sitting here so long they have sunken into the landscape.

And then the tyre baler broke down.

Much like the infamous informal sorters who emerge unseen from the piles of rubbish carted in daily by dumptrucks. They dress like people from the Sahara, but theirs is a desert of plastic, cardboard and metal bits. They scale the mountains of garbage, picking their treasures from Kingston’s trash. But you wouldn’t dare call them scavengers. Proud and persistent, these workers make a pretty penny from their odd occupation and manage to live quite comfortably.

And they don’t like pictures.

But perhaps no one is more comfortable than the Riverton pigs. Huge, loud, dirty animals that roam the mud pits and shanty towns of Riverton City, they are kept in pens with access to the stream that runs through the dump. Take a second to ponder the environmental ramifications of that sentence. These pigs are not only native to Riverton. The next time you buy a piece of roadside jerk pork for an amazingly low price, think about where the vendor could have gotten the meat so cheap. It probably wasn’t your local meat shop.

Oink. Oink.

Perhaps the worst-off group at the Riverton City dump is the staff at the facility. They are subject to subpar working conditions: non-sterilized biological waste, the constant risk of radioactive waste slipping past the sensors (which happens more often than not), the rundown equipment and almost complete lack of proper maintenance. Not to mention government pay. And this list doesn’t even begin to cover aesthetic issues like the overwhelming heat and inescapable atrocious stench. The risk of vector-borne illnesses is impossibly high, what with numerous stray animals on site: goats and dogs, as well as smaller pests like rats and roaches.

The Riverton City dump is a hazard to the health of its workers and the community surrounding it.  Everyone is getting shortchanged, even the people whose trash is being collected and thrown there. They don’t know it yet, but they are steadily clogging a toilet that will someday overflow. And when it does, this public health disturbance will become a public health disaster.

I think the entire facility ought to be chucked into a giant autoclave. Or at least invested in so they can fill the damn thing properly every day.