Smoke issues prompt MOH visit

Tuesday December 08, 2015 Written by Published in Health
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The Ministry of Health has promised to take action after complaints from residents in Vaimaanga that Rarotongan Resort and Spa staff have been burning plastic PVC furniture among other rubbish on a dump site opposite the resort.


The residents say fires have been sending toxic-smelling smoke swirling through their homes, making it difficult to breathe.  On Friday, health protection officer Charlie Ave said representatives from the Ministry of Health and the National Environment Service visited the site at 9.30am and saw the problem for themselves.

“There was a mixture of waste at the dump, including plastic, etc. We had a meeting with the resort manager and another representative and the manager was surprised to hear about plastic being burned, as the site was for green waste, not plastic or anything like that.”

Ave said the resort had been told to clean up the waste site by this week.

“We will be going back on Tuesday or Wednesday to check.”

Several complaints were received by CI News last week about the strong plastic smell coming from a rubbish fire on land opposite the resort.

Cook Islands News took photographs of the dump site, which clearly contained plastic and PVC items.

One resident said that when the fire had been burning last Tuesday, his family could barely breathe because of the fumes.

“I needed to take my family for a drive just to reach a bit of fresh air, and even that didn’t quite do the trick, as the smell had stained our clothing, and when we got home, the furniture in our home was drenched in the smell.”

Resort owner Tata Crocombe acknowledged that burning plastic was bad for peoples’ health and for the environment, but said it was the first he had heard of the problem.  An immediate stop would be put to the practice of burning plastic, he said.

Though CI News was told of a similar incident occurring at the same location earlier this year, Ministry of Health, Protection Manager Tangata Vaeau said on Wednesday last week that it was the first time his office had received notice of it and he would send staff to investigate.

The National Environment Service’s advisory and compliance division manager, Vavia Tangatataia said NES knew about the resort’s waste site, but claimed it was the first time he had heard of complaints from residents in the area.

Asked about another rubbish dump on private land on the back road in Kavera where rubbish containing plastic and rubber is regularly burned, MOH’s Ave said while the dump “may have been discussed among ministry staff informally, no-one had investigated it.”

He promised staff would also visit that site this week.

Meanwhile, online research confirms that the effects of burning plastic can increase the risk of life-threatening problems, such as heart disease; aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema.

It can also cause rashes, nausea, or headaches, damage in the nervous system, kidney or liver problems right through to a person’s reproductive and development systems.

A simple foam cup, meat tray, egg containers, yogurt or deli container has the potential to release styrene gases which can readily be absorbed through the skin and lungs.

Photos taken at the site show the Rarotongan Resort and Spa waste site also contains heavy duty PVC items that contain organochloride-based substances.

If burned, these can release dioxins, which are highly toxic.        - SM/CS

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