Healthy Air, Healthy Planet
A Statement by Senator Sophia Frazer Binns, Shadow Minister of Land, Environment and Climate Change to Mark the International day of Clean Air 2021
As the nation marks “International Day of Clean Air” 2021 under the theme “Healthy Air, Healthy Planet”, we must reflect on the state of our air. One of our most precious resources which we need to survive and think little about.
The International Day of Clean Air seeks to highlight the impact of air pollution, especially inlight of the COVID-19 pandemic, on our health. Today, the 7th of September, serves as an awareness raising day and a time to mobilize in support of the right to clean air. This right is enshrined in the Jamaican Constitution.
Air pollution causes two major problems. The first being the impact on people’s physical health. Research shows that there is a direct correlation to certain respiratory illnesses and air pollution. The unhealthy air we breathe, which is primarily made up of small, invisible particles, is carried deep into our lungs, bloodstream and bodies. About one-third of deaths from stroke, chronic respiratory illness, and lung cancer, as well as one-quarter of deaths from heart attacks, are caused by these pollutants. Ground-level ozone, produced from the interaction of many different pollutants in sunlight, is also a cause of asthma and chronic respiratory illnesses.
Given the impacts of unclean air on our healthcare systems and economies. The financial benefits of reducing air pollution, therefore, cannot be overstated
Secondly, air pollution has a direct impact on our climate. Short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) such as black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons, are among the pollutants most strongly connected to both adverse health effects and global warming. They can remain in the atmosphere for as short a time as a few days.
It is in everyone’s best interest to decrease the presence of these pollutants in order to garner almost immediate health and climate benefits.
As we reflect on this day for healthy and clean air, we cannot ignore the plight of so many Jamaicans who often complain about the air pollution and dust nuisance accompanying bauxite and other mining activities in their communities. It is an incontrovertible truth that one of the main impacts of the mining industry on public health is its effect on air quality. The primary particulate matters (PMs) that have been found during mining activity are PM10 and PM2.5. Inhalable particulate matter has been linked to a variety of health problems. They are the result of both short and long-term exposure. The World Health Organization has concluded that there is ‘no safe level’ of PM10 and PM2.5
Exposure to both PM10 and PM2.5 can cause emphysema, pneumonia, tuberculosis, cancer, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), respiratory distress syndrome, pulmonary oedema, and asthma. Diseases which affect the respiratory system and result in reduced oxygen being delivered to the tissues of our body, may result in damage to every major organ.
Many Jamaicans in mining communities, complain about the industry’s negative effects on rural and community life, farming, soil fertility, water supplies from catchments, roof damage, dust nuisance and respiratory illnesses. Among the countless headlines on the subject, one that stands out is Karyl Walker’s article in the Jamaica Observer on February 11th 2007, which stated: “Dust, stench and claim of impotence: Pollution killing us, say communities near bauxite plants – Firms insist waste not toxic”.
As we mark this day let us commit to clean and healthy air for ourselves and our children.
The Opposition therefore suggests the following:
The implementation of air quality tests administered by NEPA and not the mining companies. This calls for the allocation of additional resources to NEPA so that the requisite machinery can be procured and personnel trained. This will allow for more objective reading and analysis of air quality in mining areas.
A recommitment to no mining in the cockpit country including the buffer zone. The cockpit country remains our last remaining area of unspoiled greenery with rich and rare flora and fauna. This area is our lungs and plays a critical role in maintaining clean air.
To implement a health monitoring and tracking system for mining communities.
All Jamaicans have a right to enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury or damage from environmental abuse and degradation.
Let’s preserve our environment and safeguard our health.