Educate and Enforce to stop open burning - Stanley
Lamenting that Jamaica continues to struggle with air-quality issues, particularly in urban areas, chief executive officer of Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), Suzanne Stanley, is beseeching the authorities to enforce the law in order to stamp out the practice of unregulated open burning.
Stanley has also called on the Government to ramp up public education on the consequences of poor air quality, as well as the penalties for breaches.
"There is ignorance of the actual law. People don't realise that fines exist under the regulations and the possible consequences in the courts as it relates to open burning," Stanley told The Gleaner yesterday. "There are also enforcement issues, because if the regulations were being enforced, you would find a significant reduction in the amount of open burning that is taking place," Stanley added.
The Gleaner sought Stanley's views after observing the open burning of debris and bush early yesterday morning in Kingston. Smoke which could be seen for miles away was eventually traced back to a seemingly abandoned house off Fourth Avenue in the community of Vinyard Town.
When quizzed, residents claimed to not know how or when the fire was started.
Under the Public Health (Nuisance) (Amendment) Regulations, 2013, the public is advised that open burning, without permission, is an illegal activity and is prohibited. If caught, a first conviction should result in a fine not exceeding $500,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months whereas a subsequent conviction warrants a fine not exceeding $1 million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months.
"We don't often see the laws in the environmental arena have so many teeth; so, this is a good law. It clearly has been well considered and there are penalties that could act as a real deterrent to the kind of behaviour we are trying to police. But it needs more enforcement and more public awareness; they go hand in hand," reasoned Stanley.
She pointed out that JET, over the past few months, has been doing a lot of public awareness around air and water quality, but reiterated that Government effort was needed to supplement this.
"We have a culture of burning in this country which really needs to stop. We burn for everything. We scrape up a little pile of leaves in the corner of our yard and we burn it.
"There is, perhaps, a lack of awareness as it relates to the public-health impact of burning. Any kind of smoke can cause respiratory illness, especially for those most vulnerable in our population, young children, people who are already sick and the elderly," she asserted.