Gases released into air by DEH incinerator causes concerns for public Loop Cayman Islands

The content originally appeared on: Cayman Compass

According to Richard Simms, the Director of the Department of Environmental Health (DEH), each week, the DEH uses its incinerator to burn thousands of pounds of materials, including medical waste, narcotics and other seized goods.

When this happens twice per week (with each load being about 6,400 lbs), gases are released into our air.

Regarding what is specifically emitted, Mr Simms articulated that:

No emissions monitoring is possible on the exhaust gases from the current system. The incinerator has a two stage burn system with a primary chamber for the waste to be placed for incineration and a secondary chamber where the flue gases are further incinerated prior to emission from the stack. Typical gases released from these systems are in the majority combustion products such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide plus hydrogen chloride and other trace gases.

With respect to sulphur dioxide (SO?), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes SO? as “a colorless gas with a characteristic, irritating, pungent odor.”

Exposure to sulfur dioxide may cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. Symptoms include: nasal mucus, choking, cough, and reflex bronchi constriction, and when liquid: frostbite- Workers may be harmed from exposure to sulfur dioxide. The level of exposure depends upon the dose, duration, and work being done.

The CDC added.

Regarding nitrogen dioxide, some guidance on this is provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to the EPA:

Breathing air with a high concentration of NO2 can irritate airways in the human respiratory system. Such exposures over short periods can aggravate respiratory diseases, particularly asthma, leading to respiratory symptoms (such as coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing), hospital admissions and visits to emergency rooms. Longer exposures to elevated concentrations of NO2 may contribute to the development of asthma and potentially increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. People with asthma, as well as children and the elderly are generally at greater risk for the health effects of NO2.

With no emissions monitoring possible on the exhaust gases from the current system used by DEH, it is unclear how much SO?, NO? and other gases have been released into the atmosphere over the past decade and who (if anyone) could have been impacted.

Given these concerns, government officials may wish to consider whether it is now prudent to consider the implementation of a Clean Air Act, the purpose of such an Act being to enhance the health and safety of members of the public, to protect them from dangerous emissions and to make users of such incinerators legally accountable.