Thu | Jul 18, 2024

Garth Rattray | Riverton City dump is extremely hazardous

Published:Sunday | April 21, 2024 | 12:07 AM

The 125-acre Riverton City garbage disposal site (accounting for 60 per cent of the island’s waste) is only a site where community waste is dumped. However, it was meant to be a landfill site that keeps all waste products and waste by-products from entering the groundwater. It should also keep gases and particulates out of the atmosphere by laying down a cover of adequate compressed soil or earth on top of a day’s deposition of waste.

However, the Riverton City dump’s liquid percolates unrestrained and mixes with nearby subterrain water. Is not far from the Duhaney, Ferry, and Rio Cobre rivers. Its gasses and volatile chemicals fly through the air that many citizens must breathe. It is situated within very dense residential communities, and many nearby commercial entities. Even when there is no fire on the dump, the revolting sour odour of rotting garbage and decay is very nauseating. The airborne gasses spread themselves very far and wide. Sometimes when I step outside my office, I’m assaulted by the horrendous smell. I am 1.4 kilometres from Half-Way Tree and 5.6 kilometres from the waste disposal site.

If there is a fire on the dump site, the toxic fumes will invade the cabins of motor vehicles, homes, businesses, schools, and churches in parts of the Kingston and St Andrew metropolitan area. People as far away as Portmore and some other parts of St Catherine also suffer from the dangerous smoke. It produces an aggressively acrid and sickly smell that stings the eyes, burns the nostrils, and irritates the airways.


Every time that I drive by that dump, I wonder how anyone can bear the constant bad odour and survive that close to such toxicity. Mystery always surrounds how and why the dump catches fire. Some even speculate that it is spontaneous combustion caused by the heat and volatile chemicals in the dump. But we all know that individuals burn tyres and plastic material to get at the metal within them to sell for the scrap metal trade.

Several years ago, we were given a glimmer of hope when Mr Daryl Vaz announced to initiate a campaign nicknamed ZOSO (zone of special operations) for the environment and that he was going to start with the illegal burning of toxic material at the Riverton City ‘Landfill’. Well, that never materialised.

There are several litres of petroleum and oil in each old tyre. When burnt, toxic particulates and gasses are released into the atmosphere. Some of them enter our lungs directly, others get into the soil and water where they are deposited and absorbed by the foods (plants and animals) that people eat. When these toxic substances enter our lungs, some of them remain in our fat stores and others are secreted in the milk of breastfeeding mothers. Several can cause cancer, and some can cause foetal abnormalities.

A partial list of those substances includes chlorine and styrene (both are carcinogenic), chromium, zinc, barium, cobalt, copper, iron, aluminium, manganese, vanadium and more than 20 different heavy metals. There is also benzene (also carcinogenic) and lead, 1,3 butadiene, cadmium, and mercury. Added to this list is arsenic and dioxin (which is a highly toxic environmental pollutant … it can travel enormous distances, is never broken down and accumulates in our bodies). Those pollutants are allergenic and cause eye irritation, respiratory diseases, especially sinusitis and asthma. They can also cause cancer. The very young and the elderly are especially susceptible.


A few years ago, Dr Alverston Bailey, clinical toxicologist and associate professor at the University of Technology, Jamaica, investigated the health problems caused by the dump. There were 415 fires between 1996 and 2015. Dr Bailey explained, “In 2014, approximately 200,000 chemicals were released in the air. The sulphur dioxide released in the 2014 fire was again higher than WHO guidelines, ranging between 50 to over 150 and nitrogen dioxide again ranging from 50 up to 100 microgram per metre cube. The particulates released in 2014 indicated that Spanish Town Road was exposed to large amounts of particulates, up to 81 microgram per metre cube. The PM10 (particulate matter 10 micrometres or less in diameter) levels were very high during the fire.”

In 2019, Dr Bailey explained that the National Environment and Planning Agency guidelines allowed for greater atmospheric particulates exposure than the WHO guidelines. Despite the obvious dangers, people not only live on the periphery of the dump, but some also make a living (as ‘pickers’) on the dump. Dr Bailey further said, “In the very high-risk areas, almost quarter million persons reside. This is 22 per cent of the population residing in the parish, and females account for 55 per cent of this total. In the high-risk areas, we have approximately 6,398 residing and females account for 53 per cent. And in the zone of influence, we have a total population of over 800,000 Jamaicans residing in this area, living in total ignorance of the dangers that they face … 37 per cent of the population in this area are children and the elderly. The main groups of persons affected were those between the ages 18 to 64 years old.”

Something needs to be done about the hazardous Riverton City dump urgently. It needs to be replaced by a genuine landfill that is odourless, safe and can be a source of methane for renewable energy.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Send feedback to and