Waking up early, I mean. Not suffering from smoke inhalation. It’s day six (?) of the Retirement Dump fire in Montego Bayor as we who live close by call it, “too damn long”. It’s really uncomfortable to wake up and go to sleep in the smell of smoke. Even more uncomfortable to do yoga in it. Not to mention the laundry. My bed sheets are soaking up the smog as we speak, and I don’t even want to think about my hair.
One of my favourite things about our house-in-progress is that we finally have work desks right in front of the windows. But peering out my windows to contemplate the flowers in the garden is now a health hazard because I have to contend with emissions of carbon and god only knows what else in the air.
So on top of the probably indefinite State of Emergency, St. James is now slowly choking to death or at least serious illness. If bad things come in threes, I can’t wait to see what else is going to kick us when we’re down. That’s not true, I can totally wait. At least until I can breathe again.
Hopefully we come out of this with no serious ill effects. You know, other than migraines, chronic cough, upper respiratory infections, exacerbated asthma. . . I could go on, but run on sentences are harder to do when the air is full of noxious fumes.
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.
RIVERTON DISPOSAL SITE
Lined with waterproof materials such as clay or plastic
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
This table borrowed without permission from Norbert Campbell of UWI, Mona. [My edits].
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.
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.
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.
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.