During a session on Saturday, the auditorium became filled with smoke that was distinctively the result of burning plastic trash nearby.
Many participants in the room experienced burning in their eyes and throats or headaches following exposure to the smoke.
Current research indicates that burning plastic waste is very harmful to human health. Exposure to plastic smoke can increase the risk of heart disease; aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema; cause rashes, nausea, and headaches; or damage the nervous system, kidney, liver, and reproductive system.
For the international delegates of the conference and tourists travelling through the Cooks, it might just be an inconvenience.
However, as a matter of public health and safety, the local councils and national government should seriously consider an outreach and education campaign as well as regulations targeted at eliminating the practice of burning plastic trash for the sake of the residents of the Cook Islands, especially their children.
Alfred “Bubba” Cook
Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager,
World Wide Fund for Nature