How do you shut down a dump? This was one of the questions coming from Stetson Malchan of the Guanapo Community and Environmental Development Organisation (G-CEDO) during a lively town-hall style meeting held in March between residents and members of a UWI-led project team at a community church.
The multi-disciplinary team, from the Faculties of Science and Technology, Engineering and Medical Sciences at UWI and the Caribbean Institute of Metrology and Hydrology (CIMH) along with partner institutions, the Solid Waste Management Company Limited of Trinidad and Tobago (SWMCOL) and the Water Resources Agency (WRA) came together to address issues expected to crop up as their project unfurls.
This project, funded by the Trinidad and Tobago Research and Development Impact Fund (RDI Fund), called “The impact of the contaminants produced by the Guanapo Landfill on the surrounding environment” has been set up to assess the extent of contamination from the Guanapo Landfill to the air, water and soil, as well as identify the potential impacts of this contamination to ecological and human receptors.
This was one of the first community activities and there was an excellent turnout by residents, and even Arima’s MP, Rodger Samuel, was there.
The programme began with greetings from UWI by Dr Denise Beckles, SWMCOL by Mr Rhyan Hanoomansingh, Communications Sales and Marketing General Manager and from WASA/WRA by Dr Sharda Maharaj, Consultant. Dr. Beckles outlined the project, highlighting goal and positive impacts to the community. This was followed by a few short presentations. Dr. Andy Ward of CIMH (Ground water hydrology and landfill modelling) described the structure of landfills and using an example of the type of model that would be developed, showed residents how the information would allow managers to predict the movement and concentration of pollutant chemicals from the landfill.
Dr. Monica Davis also made a short presentation on the likely public health effects of landfill emissions, and the methodology she would use to determine the severity of any health impacts on residents of the area. This was followed by a presentation from Mr. Stetson Malchan, of G-CEDO. Mr. Malchan gave some information about the water quality sampling that G-CEDO members are doing as part of the WRA’s “Adopt-a-River” programme.
Afterwards Dr. Beckles, Dr Ward and Ms Maria Allong, Quality Health and Safety Manger (SWMCOL) answered questions from the audience. Concerns included queries about the level of pollutants in the water, problems from both the landfill and the quarries in the area, information about how to shut down a landfill, where will the information from the study go and how will it be used. MP Samuel indicated his desire to close the landfill entirely.
Mr. Roger Belix said he had done tests at his own expense in 2010 and found mercury in the river water. He was concerned about the health impact from the landfill, and wanted to see the involvement of the Ministry of Health in this project. He also noted the presence of quarries upstream, and asked about the impact of this on the water. He was told that in her role as a public health specialist, Dr Davis would be assessing the likelihood of a serious public health impact, and what action should be taken. Quarrying would affect the rivers in the area, but in a different way from the landfill.
A suggestion was made that the study should include some indication of bioaccumulation of the chemicals in the organisms of the river, because people in the area consumed fish from the rivers. It was also suggested that a recycling cooperative be considered, so that the activities of the community who scavenge could be more controlled (similar to what obtained in the Beetham a short while ago), but SWMCOL said there were safety concerns relating to people being allowed on the landfill site.
The meeting was assured that all information would be readily available to the public, as this was a requirement of the RDI fund. There would be a final symposium, where the data and conclusions would be presented, along with articles in the press and academic journals. Dr. Beckles also undertook to ensure that there would be literature that would be also accessible to the informed layperson. It was noted that the primary reason for the project was to obtain useful data, data that could be used to tell SWMCOL and WASA what would be the best action to mitigate problems at the dump.