Smoke emanating from Tortola’s incinerator can often be seen flowing toward St. John.
Governor John deJongh said last week that at his urging Environmental Protection Agency officials at the U.S. State Department have formally asked the government of the British Virgin Islands to stop polluting the air of St. John by burning trash in the open on neighboring Tortola.
The U.S. State Department requested from United Kingdom and BVI officials that they immediately cease the practice of open rubbish burning at the Pockwood Pond incineration facility, and that they give full priority to a new facility that will responsibly handle the island’s waste disposal, according to deJongh.
“Our friends in the British Virgin Islands must responsibly process their waste,” said the governor. “It is unfair for the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands, specifically residents of St. John, to have their air quality diminished by the actions of a neighboring country.”
State Department officials encouraged BVI authorities to stockpile excess rubbish in a properly managed site on Tortola so as to make possible delayed incineration without open burning. They also proposed an alternative solution of setting up an interim solid waste disposal program until the new incinerator at Pockwood Pond is completed.
The communication between the two governments urged UK and BVI officials to install a new 100 ton per day incinerator plant to become operational by April of this year.
Plumes of smoke emanating from Tortola’s incinerator can often be seen flowing toward St. John. In a letter to BVI Governor David Peavy, EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck requested the government to take immediate measures to stop its open burning practices.
“I seek your personal intervention in resolving a serious and recurring situation which has potential adverse health impacts on the residents of the island of St. John,” Enck wrote to Peavy. “The harmful air pollution from the open burning of trash on the island of Tortola is reaching the residents and visitors of St. John and contributing to increased levels of respiratory problems and illness.”
In her letter, Enck reminded Peavy of a 2009 meeting on the same subject, during which BVI officials assured US officials that the situation would be addressed.
“Last year, on November 13, 2009, EPA officials joined the Commissioner of the USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources in a meeting with high ranking officials of the British Virgin Islands in Tortola,” Enck wrote. “The purpose of the meeting was to discuss our concerns over the air pollution caused by the open burning of garbage at the Tortola Municipal Solid Waste Landfill.”
“The open burning of trash is a major source of particulate matter, dioxins, and other harmful air pollutants,” Enck wrote. “Such pollutants have major public health impacts. Therefore, I urge you to take immediate measures to stop the open burning of trash on the island of Tortola.”
In a reply letter to Enck, BVI officials admitted the problem and stated that work on a new 100-ton incinerator were underway.
“The Minister of Health and Social Development Government of the Virgin Islands remains deeply concerned about the adverse effects of open burning at the dumpsite at Pockwood Pond,” BVI Governor Boyd McCleary wrote to Enck. “This becomes necessary on occasions when the existing incinerator unit is brought off-line for repairs, and the accumulation of waste becomes overwhelming. These impacts are Indeed pronounced among the residents of the western and northwestern communities on Tortola, and the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands.”
“On July 2l, 2010 Cabinet awarded two contracts for the mechanical, electrical and plumbing works required to complete the Installation of the new unit.
Contracts were signed last month and work has commenced on site,” McCleary wrote. “The estimated completion time is six to nine months. Once the new plant is up and running the open burning of rubbish should no longer be necessary.”
On March 3, deJongh met with Enck at Government House on St. Croix to discuss the territory’s environmental issues and concerns, including complaints from St. John residents about open trash burning on Tortola.
At that meeting, the governor emphasized the importance of continuing to press the issue upon the BVI government through diplomatic channels. In addition, at the request of the Governor, EPA installed air quality monitors on St. John.
EPA officials have already raised concerns about open trash burning directly with Tony Bates, Head of the Caribbean and Bermuda Section of the UK Overseas Territories Directorate in London, at a February 8 meeting.