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Call for urgent action against open burning in communities

Published:Friday | June 2, 2023 | 12:14 AM


The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has been receiving numerous complaints about poor air quality due to ongoing open burning of garbage, plastics and garden waste. Despite contacting relevant authorities, such as the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB), the police, the National Environment and Planning Agency, and the Ministry of Health and Wellness, community members express frustration due to a lack of effective response. Temporary measures by the JFB have proven insufficient, and JET’s attempts to assist by following up with state agencies have been met with mere acknowledgements.

The emissions from these fires are often toxic and contain hazardous substances. Studies have consistently linked exposure to air pollution from burning activities to a range of health problems, including respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, and even premature death. Vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions, are at even greater risk.

The Country Fires Act (1942) states that ‘any person who sets fire to any trash on land is guilty of an offence unless the occupier of such land first notifies the police and occupiers of adjoining lands of his intention to burn.’ The Act also prohibits lighting fires between 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. The Natural Resources Conservation (Environmental Protection Measures) Order, (2016) makes February 1 to October 31 a no-open burning period. Open burning, without permission, is an illegal activity and is prohibited Under the Public Health (Nuisance) (Amendment) Regulations, 2013. 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.

Despite the existence of these laws, the problem of open burning persists. It is imperative that the authorities take immediate and effective measures to address this widescale issue. We need stricter enforcement of existing regulations related to burning practices, as well as the development of comprehensive policies that promote sustainable waste management alternatives. This should also include engaging in public awareness campaigns to foster a sense of responsibility among community members.

Additionally, there must be greater accountability for those responsible for repeated open-burning incidents. Strengthening monitoring and surveillance capabilities will help identify and penalise offenders.

It is crucial that regulatory authorities take urgent decisive action to address this widespread issue.