THE HAGUE--Carrying out pollution measurements at and around the waste disposal site, the dump, and communicating about the results of this monitoring is primarily a responsibility of the St. Maarten government. However, St. Maarten will make use of the offer of the Dutch government to have Dutch experts carry out additional measurements.
Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops stated this on Monday in response to written questions submitted by Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Nevin Özütok of the green left party GroenLinks. Özütok sought clarity last month after a damning article in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant about the alarming situation at the St. Maarten dump and the health hazard for people living nearby.
The state secretary responded that he was familiar with the media reports about the hazardous fumes and the highly problematic issue of the dump fires. “I don’t know the exact composition of the smoke, but as I have said earlier, I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t endanger the public health and I consider it of the greatest importance that research takes place.”
Asked whether it was correct that preliminary measurements at the dump have shown that the fumes contain carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide and other harmful components, Knops replied that the carrying out of measurements and communicating about the results was a responsibility of the autonomous Country St. Maarten.
“However, from day one I have asked the St. Maarten government and the World Bank to pay attention to the consequences of the fires at the dump. I have asked them, in the interest of public health, to give high priority to tackle this and to mitigate the fires. The measurements that the World Bank had carried out were aimed at the situation on the dump itself and to prepare for taking the right measures to tackle the fires,” he stated.
According to the state secretary, the World Bank is currently rounding up the final research report of these pollution measurements after which the definitive report will be made available to the St. Maarten government, at which time the local government will make the results public.
Knops said that additional measurements were needed to determine the risks of the smoking dump for the health of people living near the site. That is why he has offered the St. Maarten government assistance with the monitoring of the impact of the dump emissions on the health of these residents.
The local government has, via a request for technical assistance, indicated that it wants to make use of this offer. The Environment Disaster Service of the National Institute for Public Health and Environment RIVM in the Netherlands will carry out these measurements. The Dutch government will bear the financial cost. RIVM experts are drafting a plan of approach and it is expected that monitoring will start in January 2019, stated Knops.
The state secretary minced no words on the severity of the dump issue. “I have said publicly before that the dump is a major problem that has been neglected for 40 years and that it is a shame that this waste disposal site in the middle of the island causes such inconvenience. An untenable situation has evolved which has become worse with the additional waste and debris as a result of Hurricane Irma in 2017. Aside from the threat to the public health, the dump creates a big risk for the tourism-dependent economy.”
The tackling of the dump fires and waste management in general is a high priority in the spending of the recovery funding via the Trust Fund at the World Bank. The Steering Group in its first meeting in June 2018 approved the US $25 million emergency debris project of which managing the waste disposal and the fires is a main component, Knops explained.
Local authorities, with the help of the experts of the World Bank, are working on parallel tracks to find short-term and long-term solutions. The short term includes the managing and combating of the dump fires and the system and implementation of waste management. The long term is about sustainable waste management. It is expected that sustainable waste management can be introduced next year.
“Everyone wants to work on a safe and sustainable solution, but this involves a long period. During my recent visit to St. Maarten on November 15, I again urged everyone to arrive at solutions as soon as possible,” said Knops.
The state secretary mentioned reports in the media about the offer of installing a waste burner as a possible solution. “However, St. Maarten via the Trust Fund Steering Group has committed to arrive at a structural and sustainable solution. As far as I know, no decisions were taken on this,” he said.