Kai Allman, a young secondary school student who is among the hundreds of Barbadians afflicted by asthma, had to be rushed to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Monday night for treatment for an attack – his eighth for the year.
The trigger: a neighbour’s backyard fire.
Allman said: “I smelled some smoke in the area and within an hour or two I started experiencing asthma symptoms.
“So this small little fire in a trash can that people claim is just burning garbage, they’re sending so many people to the asthma bay they don’t even know themselves because the smoke is blowing away from their homes into my bedroom, triggering my asthma and sending me to the asthma bay for four or five hours while they are down at home.
“I am pleading with persons to stop burning indiscriminately around Barbados, please.”
Allman’s is a familiar cry long made by countless others that have fallen on deaf ears.
Simply put, we have a culture of burning in this country that really needs to end. We burn everything. We scrape up a little pile of leaves in the corner of our yard and we burn it, we pick up old receipts and letters and burn them. We kill chicken and livestock and we burn the offal.
The time for legislation to penalise those who persist in engaging in this bad habit around their homes year-round is way past due.
We support a suggestion from Chief Fire Officer Errol Maynard made last December that homeowners acquire permits to burn refuse.
As he made that recommendation, Chief Maynard disclosed that “90 per cent of the fires that we respond to are fires that start small and get out of control because persons don’t know what they are doing”.
He added: “We are looking at finding legislation that you have to get a permit to burn, but that has to be discussed with our minister and ministry.”
We urge that this issue is dealt with to extinguish this vexing problem. Too many are suffering from the thoughtless habit of others.
Describing a widespread problem, president of the Asthma Association of Barbados, Rosita Pollard, said: “People are complaining every day about people burning. It really is a bother to people with respiratory ailments and it is causing a big problem. People are being rushed to the hospital because of fires on a regular basis.”
And beyond the obvious dangers for asthmatics like young Kai, this smoke can also trigger migraines, harm people with heart conditions, and impair the health of children and the elderly.
Smoke is a nuisance and is so recognised in common law. But this distressing and inconsiderate act has risen far further beyond its current status in law.
Smoke is not restricted to the backyard of the offender. Smoke blows away from its source and onto unsuspecting neighbours. People are affected from kilometres around.
What can be worse than breathing in the stench of smoke from the burning of chicken entrails and old tyres?
There are alternatives that people can take advantage of to eliminate the waste they burn that wreaks havoc.
A lot of yard waste can be composted and then put back in the garden as fertiliser for plants. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
So instead of lighting a fire and driving your neighbours indoors or sending them to the hospital, be considerate. Your neighbours’ lungs will thank you and so will your own.
We support the calls for a strict mechanism to be put in place to address the burning of waste to protect people as a matter of utmost urgency, especially those with asthma and other respiratory diseases and to protect the environment. It is simply the right thing to do.