The recent statement from the Ministry of Health stating that Jamaicans should not experience any long term effects from the fire at the Riverton City disposal site is both alarming and troubling. Over the weekend the same government ministry told the nation that samples were taken of the air quality at two locations and that these were sent off to be tested. We were further informed that the results would have been available on March 18th and or March 19th, 2015. We are yet to hear such results. It bears thought as to how such a statement could be forthcoming as this time since the result of the air quality would be pending. The statement from the Ministry of Health is at best premature and irresponsible. In fact further explanation is required from the Ministry of Health on this matter.
Disturbingly, in 2012 the cancer causing chemical Benzene was
detected at three times the World Health Organization’s air standard as a
result from a fire at the said disposal facility.
According to the American Cancer Society Benzene is
a colorless, flammable liquid with a sweet odor. It evaporates quickly when
exposed to air. It is used mainly as a starting material in making other
chemicals, including plastics, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs,
and pesticides. Benzene is known to cause cancer, based on evidence from
studies in both people and lab animals. The link between benzene and cancer has
largely focused on leukemia and cancers of other blood cells. Rates of leukemia,
myeloid leukemia (AML), have been found to be higher
in studies of workers exposed to high levels of benzene, such as those in the
chemical, shoemaking, and oil refining industries. The International Agency
for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization
(WHO). Its major goal is to identify causes of cancer. IARC classifies benzene
as “carcinogenic to humans,” based on sufficient evidence that benzene causes
acute myeloid leukemia (AML). IARC also notes that benzene exposure has been
linked with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL),
multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) is formed
from parts of several different US government agencies, including the National
Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The NTP has classified
benzene as “known to be a human carcinogen.”
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
maintains the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), an electronic database
that contains information on human health effects from exposure to various
substances in the environment. The EPA classifies benzene as a known
It would be quite interesting and informative to find out if
the Ministry of Health conducted a study to see how many Jamaicans exposed to
the smoke and noxious fumes in 2012 got cancer and what type of cancer.
Additionally, we need to know whether the Ministry of Health
has any plans to monitors those 800 plus Jamaicans who had to seek medical
attention due to their exposure to the fire that broke out at the Riverton City. Even without such a study being done, I think the Ministry of Health owes us
some clarification of the matter. We
also need to hear from the Ministry of Environment regarding the environmental
impact of the fire at Riverton City.
I am sure if the disposal site was located in an upper
middle- class community, then we would not be having this discussion, since a
suitable alternative would have been found.
Recall what former US President John F Kennedy said: “Our most common link is that we all inhabit this small
planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And
we are all mortal”.
Wayne Campbell is an
educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as
they affect culture and or gender issues.