Editorial comment – Sugar to smoky city

A group of people including children enter the Vunato Dump site as a blaze continues to emit heavy smoke over Lautoka City. Picture: REPEKA NASIKO/FILE

THE Vunato rubbish dump fire is certainly creating problems for those affected by smoke emanating from it.

Yesterday, Lautoka City Council CEO Jone Nakauvadra said they were doing their best to put out the fire as quickly as possible.

He insisted there had been a significant reduction in the level of the fire yesterday at the dump when compared to that on Monday.

He said while it was unfortunate that there was a fire, investigations were in progress to “try to find out the person or persons who may have been involved in this mischievous act”.

The council, he said, hoped to cover areas within the landfill site that had not been exposed to fire yet.

He said the fire started on Monday morning and was followed by a second fire on Tuesday.

Mr Nakauvadra said the LCC, in partnership with the National Fire Authority, was hosing down and burying parts of the dump that were burning.

It is good to know the cause of action the LCC has undertaken.

However, it is a concern that residents are being exposed to smoke from the dump fire.

It has attracted the attention of Dr Francis Mani — an atmospheric scientist at the University of the South Pacific’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

He believes all steps must be taken to bring the fire under control as soon as possible.

Long-term exposure to dump fire smoke, he said, could result in serious breathing and heart-related issues, and even cancer.

The burning, he says, produces carbon monoxide, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

These are classified as major air pollutants, he said, and long-term exposure could cause serious respiratory and cardiovascular problems in humans.

Understandably there will be questions asked about whether exposure to smoke from the dump fire already poses a direct threat for residents of parts of the city that are affected.

It does not remove the fact though that the environment must be protected, which means the fire must be brought under control as soon as possible.

With the large amount of organic and green waste, and the production of combustible methane gas at the dump, controlling the fire, according to Dr Mani, might not be easy.

By yesterday, smoke had reached as far as Vuda, 11km away.

As investigations continue, people must understand and appreciate why such fires are dangerous.

The negative impact on the health and wellbeing of residents is a concern as well as the roll-on effect on businesses as smoke and the smell from the dump fire
envelopes the city and surrounding areas.

Considering the fact that this isn’t the first such fire at the dump, we hope the powers that be will take away lessons from this latest episode.

How secure is this dump for starters?

Would it be of assistance if the dump was moved? Are we equipped to put out such fires as soon as possible?

The challenge falls right back on the LCC and all stakeholders to be proactive. Every effort must be made to find out how the fire started and bring it under control as quickly as possible.

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