At the beginning of 2019, for a period of 2 weeks, the RIVM (the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and Environment) measured the air quality around the Sint Maarten landfill at Pond Island, Philipsburg. The RIVM, an independent institute of the Netherlands, conducted these measurements on the assignment of the Minister of VROMI, the costs of which was financed by the Dutch Government through funds earmarked for the recovery effort on Sint Maarten. The measurements, sampling and testing were carried out to determine potential public health risks as a result of the several fires that took place on the landfill in 2018. According to the report of the RIVM, based on the measurements carried out and the samples taken, there were no or hardly any harmful substances measured. During the measurement period there were no open fires at the landfill. As a result, the RIVM was unable to assess the potential health risks of substances released in the event of an open fire at the landfill. In order to do so, measurements would have to be carried out during an open fire, however for the last several months the Ministry of VROMI has had the fire situation at the landfill very much under control. In the future, in the event of a fire at the landfill, the local Fire Department could conduct additional measurements and sampling for testing, where if requested, the RIVM can support the Fire Department with specialized equipment and knowledge.
The measurements and samples were taken by the Environmental Incident Service (MOD) of the RIVM between January 24th and February 6th, 2019. The measurements were taken at a distance of 500 to 2500 meters from the landfill. The RIVM did not perform any measurements at the landfill itself, as the company EE&G which was engaged by the World Bank had already performed measurements at the landfill in 2018. The measurements by EE&G at the landfill were taken to assess the possible health risks and to identify measures that may need to be taken for the protection of the health of workers on the landfill, as part of the project for the upgrading of the landfill management that is being prepared. The locations selected by the RIVM for the measurements were chosen to provide a good insight into the possible exposure of the local population outside of the landfill.
Measurements were taken by the RIVM to identify the following substances: particulate matter (PM10), inorganic gases, Volatile Organic Components (VOC), aldehydes, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB). This is a broad "package" of substances that might be relevant in case of a fire. From the 206 samples taken by the RIVM, a representative selection of 90 samples was analyzed in special laboratories.
In some cases in the measurements taken by the RIVM, the concentrations of aluminum and possibly of chromium measured were found to exceed the standards that apply if people were to breathe these substances continuously throughout their lives. For PAHs, some samples exceeded the standards that would apply if these substances were ingested daily during a lifetime. However, the health effects of these exceedances are negligible, and it cannot be concluded with certainty that these exceedances are caused by emissions from the below-surface fires or smoldering on the landfill, as there are also other possible sources in the environment, such as cars and tour buses that can cause these emissions. It is acknowledged that the odor nuisance that people experience can cause some discomfort such as nausea or headache. However, while the outcome of the report of the RIVM indicates that the below-surface smoldering of the landfill poses little to no health risks for the population at large, the Ministry of VROMI acknowledges that smoke from open fires of any kind can pose health risks. Although the specific health risks in the case of open fires at the landfill could not be determined by the RIVM, while working to structurally improve the management of the landfill VROMI is continuously taking measures to prevent open landfill fires, and if these would occur, to ensure that they are extinguished as soon as possible.