By Esther Durand and Davion Smith, BVI News Staff
As the seven-day-old fire continues to smoulder at the Cox Heath dump on Tortola, the far-reaching and suffocating smoke is now forcing residents in surrounding communities out of their homes.
Standing from a vantage point of a hill in the area, smoke can be seen migrating from the dump and heading in a westerly direction.
“It is uncomfortable because we experienced it ourselves so we know it is not good for the people down there. Especially the people who live in Towers and Romney Estate, Belmont, Spyglass Hill, Capoon’s Bay, and West End,” Chief Environmental Health Officer Lionel Michael told BVI News on Tuesday, May 15.
“People are trying to cope with the situation and they do all they can. Some people close windows, some people have been moving out of the area temporarily and going to other places because they just can’t take it.”
According to Michael, the fire is worrisome for his department.
“We are very concerned. The type of waste going to the site is likely to release several types of gases and substances which are not good for the health of the people. Some people have underlying conditions that the smoke aggravate. We want the fire to be extinguished in a matter of haste,” he said.
The Chief Environmental Health Officer said local authorities recently conducted a ‘rapid survey’ of the communities that are being affected. Eighty households were surveyed between Saturday to Monday, Michael told BVI News.
He said a report has been submitted to the Ministry of Health for review.
“The findings were not alarming, they were what we expected. People are reporting stuffiness, coughing, headaches, and general symptoms.”
Further tests coming
In the meantime, the Environmental Health Department is seeking to do further tests.
“We did some basic tests — carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and so on and we didn’t find anything alarming in the area. But we would like to do more specialized testing in the air, soil, and vegetation,” he said.
The specialized testing will give a clearer indication of the scope of the fire and its impacts, Michael said. He further said local authorities will be seeking help regionally to have testing done.
Since the fire started last Wednesday, local fire officers have been at the dump 24/7.
They have been trying to monitor and contain the blaze by digging a trench around it and pumping thousands of gallons of seawater into it.
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