SINT MAARTEN/WASHINGTON - A baseline screening of smoke from subsurface fires at the Pond Island municipal and hurricane waste disposal sites was released today by the World Bank.
The screening showed that several air pollutants emitted from subsurface fires exceeded international occupational exposure limits within the perimeter of the dumpsite.
These results were expected as the majority of samples which exceeded limits were collected in the smoke where the concentration of emissions is high. The baseline screening recommends new health and safety protection measures for people active on the dumpsites.
The purpose of this baseline assessment was to identify the chemical composition of the smoke in preparation for fire suppression operations. These are to be undertaken through the Emergency Debris Management Project financed by the Sint Maarten Irma Reconstruction, Recovery, and Resilience Trust Fund funded by the government of the Netherlands. For that purpose, the assessment was conducted on the dumpsites only.
Based on the results of the screening, appropriate occupational health and safety measures have been identified to ensure the protection of workers at the site. The Government of Sint Maarten will put these in place, with the support of the World Bank.
The Grant Agreement for the Emergency Debris Management Project, which, among other activities aims to extinguish the subsurface fires at the dumpsite while controlling the impacts on the environment and the population, is scheduled to be signed next week and subsequently rolled out. Equipment is currently being procured to help improve landfill management and better control the fires.
As an immediate measure, the Government of Sint Maarten will restrict access to the waste sites to authorized personnel and workers only and will equip them with appropriate protective gear.
In addition, to assess the risk to neighboring communities, air quality measurements will be carried out by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment of the Netherlands (Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu, RIVM) in January 2019.
Further air quality monitoring will follow under the Emergency Debris Management Project before, during and after the planned fire suppression operations.
Air Quality Assessment at Sint Maarten Pond Island Municipal and Hurricane Waste Sites: Frequently Asked Questions
What is the scope of the air quality screening at the municipal waste sites?
A preliminary screening of smoke from subsurface fires at the Pond Island municipal waste disposal site and hurricane debris site was conducted at the end of August. The purpose of this baseline assessment was to identify the chemical composition of the smoke on the dumpsite, in preparation for the firefighting to be conducted as part of the Sint Maarten Trust Fund Emergency Debris Management Project.
What are the main conclusions of the air screening?
The baseline assessment showed concentrations of emissions that exceeded occupational exposure limits for certain pollutants within the perimeter of the dumpsite. International occupational standards were used. These results were expected as the samples which exceeded limits were collected in the smoke where emissions are high.
What do the results imply for ambient air quality in neighboring communities?
The screening results do not allow us to evaluate ambient air quality in neighboring communities. The measurements were taken at emission sites at the source (in the smoke) and only measured composition, but not emission rates. The screening cannot draw any conclusions about ambient air quality, for this ambient air quality measurements are needed.
Is the smoke dangerous for the people living in the nearby areas?
Currently we do not have enough information to assess the air quality and level of concentration of pollutants in the air of the surrounding areas. The only information we have is that the chemicals in the smoke exceed the allowed limits when they are measured directly at the source in the dumpsite, which may affect the workers at the site.
Why are screening readouts measured against occupational standards?
Occupational standards were used because the intent of the screening was to understand how to protect workers and fire fighters on the sites. Occupational standards are designed to protect workers exposed to the pollutants during working hours, five days a week. In general, the allowable concentration limits for occupational standards are higher than for public standards.
What are the immediate measures put in place following the assessment?
The waste disposal sites will be restricted to authorized personnel, workers at the site will be equipped with appropriate protective gear. Air quality measurements will be carried out in neighboring communities by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment of the Netherlands (Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu, RIVM) in early 2019 and further air quality monitoring and a warning system will follow under the Emergency Debris Management Project.