by Donna Sealy
Breathing around B’s recycling centre should be a little easier tonight.
Emergency officials have given the go ahead for residents of Reece Road, Cane Garden, St. Thomas and the environs to move back into their homes and businesses operating to re-open their doors tomorrow.
Chief Fire Officer Wilfred Marshall told Barbados TODAY after 6 this evening that the emergency officials were “shutting down” the command centre after there was “very little smoke” from the blaze.
He said though that trucks would continue to bring in loads of soil to smother the fire as they did last night and throughout the day.
While some of the fridges, stoves, tyres, car bodies and other pieces of remained intact in the Cane facility, some of them were not recognisable when journalists took a closer look this morning.
Although not allowed pass the gate it was clear to see the excavators and water tankers were still employed. A worker was also hosing down the soil in one area while flames were spotted in another.
A fire crew was also inside the centre while across the street a handful of workers from B’s were busy with bottles.
At the first briefing for the day, officials, concerned about the air quality in the vicinity of and downwind from the fire, said they would have tests done.
Taking no chances they also advised that Lester Vaughan School, Sharon Primary and Maria Holder Nursery as well as some businesses be closed for the day.
Chief Environmental Health Officer Tyrone Applewhaite who surveyed the areas at 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. said then that there were low levels of smoke in Melrose, Arthur’s Seat, Padmore Village, Welches Terrace, Welches Land, Holder’s Hill, Prior Park, Hoyte’s Village, West Terrace, Haynesville, and as far away as Payne’s Bay.
During this evening’s briefing, the officials reported what was found.
Laboratory Manager at the Public Health Lab, Edmund Blades, said that microbiological tests conducted in the immediate vicinity and downwind of the fire showed nothing alarming.
“We’ve tried to do some preliminary testing in terms of air quality at this site and near this site. What we’ve done is look at the carbon monoxide levels and they are within normal health limits. We’ve tested three sites west of the fire, about one kilometre away and the carbon monoxide levels are within normal [range]. They’re about 1.5 parts per million and the normal [reading] is 900 parts per million so they’re well below that limit.
“We’ve also done sampling for particulates, in terms of soot and particles and these have to be sent away to a lab in the US to get done and we’ve also been in discussion with the University of the West Indies to do some chemical sampling of other chemicals. They are supposed to meet this evening and get back to us on how we’re going to proceed with this issue,” Blades said.
He noted that the tests the UWI would conduct related to the levels and which kinds of by-products were in the plant given that “combustion of chemicals produced by-products and the levels of those may affect health”.
Blades also said the wind direction was variable and there were fluctuations in the levels of the smoke.
Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs, Adriel Brathwaite reiterated their concerns about the air quality saying that if there were any risks to residents they could advise them on whether they should move or stay.
“We are not able to give you a definitive answer in terms of [whether] there are no any mal-particles in the air,” he said.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joy St. John said she was assured with the low levels of carbon monoxide and noted she had more of a “comfort level” with residents moving back home.
She also said that every one had access to attention at the QEH and polyclinics if necessary.
Responding to claims that residents were not told to evacuate yesterday, Director of the Department of Emergency Management, Judy Thomas, said they relied on the mass media to get the word out and people would have used social media to tell each other what was happening.
She added: “We were not going to go into a hazard area to tell people to come out of a hazard area. Information was given to the residents and they knew that we were saying to evacuate… All those people who were having respiratory difficulties we would have advised them to leave… So the question of persons not hearing the warning doesn’t seem to sit with what my reality is.”
She also said the response to the fire was one of the best they have had “in terms of coordination and collaboration”. email@example.com