Burning plastic a headache for visitors

Monday August 14, 2017 Published in Letters to the Editor

Along with a couple of hundred other delegates, I attended an international fisheries conference last week at the National Auditorium in Avarua. 

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

New Zealand

1 comment

  • Comment Link John Hart Monday, 21 August 2017 10:25 posted by John Hart

    In 2004 and 2005 I taught science at Titikaveka College. Through experimentation with indicator chemical soaked filter paper (and later with a digital smog measuring instrument, I was able to identify the air pollutants and identify their major source - the daily fires that were burning at the dump. Plastics were being burned as well as other materials that gave off fuel for photochemical smog.
    But even more importantly, I researched oceanic air quality and found that in mid Atlantic - between South America and Africa there was a "pool" of photochemical smog which was created by the wind drift of wood cooking fires and deforestation fires. By comparing the data from the mid-Atlantic sea level "pool" of smog to the conditions that obtained in the Cook Islands I concluded that bush fires, cooking fires and heating fires in Australia were the cause of sea level smog which was markedly exacerbated by the dump burning. A team of epidemiologists was imported to assess the causes of the air pollution in Titikaveka. Their vastly expensive "research" was focused on some imagined bacterial bloom in the Lagoon at Titikaveka. My research disproved their three day "expert" study. Moreover, Together with Alistair (last name MacArthur ?) the Chief Mechanic at Air Rarotonga I was able to send the digital smog measuring device to outer islands where the "pool" of sea level smog was confirmed to be present. There was no biological source of the sea level smog - just man made smog ingredients mixing and being chemically bonded into smog by sunlight.
    Sadly the burning of private rubbish holes continues, according to your report. There apparently has been no effort to export plastic rubbish which has been imported to the Cooks. Why? Only you can say. I have been away until now and have not kept up to date with Rarotonga conditions. However, I can surmise that sea level smog mucosal irritation - which closed Titikaveka College several times when I was there is still there. That is sad and probably avoidable. But the will seems absent so the way is ignored.

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