A fire Tuesday caused the smoke that impacted Coral Bay and other parts of St. John on Tuesday and Wednesday, a Wednesday letter with British Virgin Islands Waste Management Manager Greg Massicote’s name at the bottom indicted. The letter was to Coral Bay Community Council President Sharon Coldren and had some undecipherable initials and the word “for” next to Massicote’s name.
“The waste in the landfill caught fire due to spontaneous combustion and spread very quickly during the night,” the letter indicated. “During the daytime, the department tried covering the smoking areas with dirt using heavy equipment. This we hope to complete today to get the smoke down to a minimal amount.”
It said although the dump’s incinerator was in operation, mixed waste that includes tree cuttings, dirt, construction waste with wood that cannot be processed by the plant is at the site. The letter noted that waste is covered with dirt “as much as it becomes available.”
The person who answered the phone at Tortola’s Waste Management Department said Massicote was on vacation.
While the Tuesday fire caused heavy smoke, residents began to occasionally smell the smoke several weeks ago. It escalated early Tuesday morning to the point where one Coral Bay resident had an asthma attack, Coldren said.
“It was a terrible, acrid, chemical smoke smell,” Coldren said.
When the breeze picked up Tuesday morning, the smell dissipated but it was back again when the wind died down Tuesday night. Some St. John residents reported smelling it Wednesday morning.
Terry McKoy, who lives on St. John’s East End, said the smoke was not heading in his direction but he could see it clearly Wednesday morning when he was driving toward Coral Bay.
One Coral Bay resident, who did not want to be named, said she woke up early Tuesday to the smell. She looked across to Tortola and could see a cloud of smoke.
This resident, as well as others, questioned Tortola’s waste management practices that resulted in the smoke problem.
“It can’t be good for you to breathe in,” she said.
The Health Department’s deputy commissioner, Kim Jones, did not return a call requesting information on the health impacts of inhaling the smoke.
The Community Council has put together a map of where people smelled the smoke to assist the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in again trying to get the British Virgin Islands government to take action. While most of the reports came from Coral Bay and the surrounding areas, the smoke could be smelled as far away as Cruz Bay.
Jim Casey, who serves as the St. Thomas-based EPA Region 2 coordinator, said because the BVI is a British territory, it’s an international issue.
“There are discussions ongoing,” he said.
While the problem this week came from a fire, the Tortola dump for years sent smoke belching to Coral Bay. The smoke problem was supposed to be solved when the BVI government installed a new incinerator, which was first tested in August 2011.
Around that time, representatives from the territory, EPA and the BVI government looked into the matter. Casey said the BVI government agreed to address the issue.
Planning and Natural Resources Department spokesman Jamal Nielsen said the department offered technical assistance.
“There was never any follow up from Tortola on the offer,” he said.
Nielsen said he was not aware that smoke from the Tortola dump was again impacting St. John.
Coldren said she was concerned about the Tortola residents who are also impacted by the smoke.