From 21 January 2019, a team from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) will travel to Sint Maarten for a period of 2 weeks, to assist the government (VROMI) to assess the potential health risks for the community in relation to landfill fires.
Frequent landfill fires in the recent past have been the subject of many complaints from various sectors of the community affected by the smoke. RIVM’s Environmental Incident Service has specialised equipment for taking measurements and samples. RIVM intends to use these to advise whether substances released from the fires may be harmful to community health in the long term.
This measurement and risk assessment work will be carried out on the instruction of VROMI. The investigation is being funded by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK). RIVM’s team will spend at least two weeks in the area, taking samples and making measurements.
Measurements and samples taken from smouldering fires and outbreaks of fire
RIVM will install equipment at the edge of the landfill for the purposes of taking air measurements and samples in relation to the continuously smouldering subsurface fires of the landfill. This measuring and sampling work will be carried out in the course of two weeks.
If during this period any outbreaks of fire occur, additional measuring sites will be set up. The exact locations of these sites will depend on factors such as the wind direction during the outbreak of fire. In such case, RIVM will take various types of samples. In addition to swipe samples of settled dust, special canisters will be used to obtain air samples. Airborne particulate matter samples will be measured, and where appropriate also grass and/or vegetation will be sampled.
The team always wears protective clothing when taking these types of samples, purely as a precaution. Any material collected will be stored under appropriate conditions.
Analysis and reporting procedures
The samples will be transported to the Netherlands in refrigerated containers. There, the samples will be analysed by various specialized laboratories at the RIKILT research institute in Wageningen, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and RIVM. These analyses will involve testing the samples for specific toxic substances that can be harmful to people’s health in the long term. These include Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, dioxins, and heavy metals. Based on the results of these analyses, RIVM will then draw up a risk assessment.
RIVM will submit a report, containing the results and its risk assessment, to VROMI, and will publish the report on its website. This is currently scheduled for May 2019.
Information about RIVM’s operation on Sint Maarten can be found on its website: www.rivm.com/sxm. Journalists may contact RIVM’s Press Office at +31 30 274 3005.