Trash Burning Continues, Despite Warning from City

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Despite a warning issued to the public two weeks ago against burning trash, the practice continues to be prevalent across Monrovia.

During most evenings, fumes of smoke fill the air across most communities in the city, as residents light up piles of trash as a means of controlling the waste.

On January 7, 2019, the Monrovia City Corporation issued a press statement where it asked that the public avoid burning garbage, given that it is illegal and poses a health hazard to the public.

According to Canada’s Department of the Environment, open burning of trash can pose serious health risks to those who are directly exposed to the smoke, particularly to their respiratory systems. Because the open burning of garbage can release pollutants such as dioxins, furans, sulphur oxides, and nitrogen oxide, short term exposure can cause headaches, nausea, and rashes. Over a longer period, exposure can contribute to some types of cancer, liver problems, impaired immune system, and other chronic issues.

The city promised to take actions against anyone caught burning garbage within its limit.

“The rampant wave of garbage fire blazing at various collection points and skip locations in Monrovia and its environs in recent weeks signifies the negative machination of such unscrupulous individuals,” the press statement noted.

However, visits to several disposal sites within the Monrovia metropolitan area revealed that the practice is still continuing, with several communities having stockpiles of garbage set on fire.

Residents and passersby near those locations could be seen coughing and covering their nose to escape the smoke.

Pekeleh Gbuapaye, the city’s media relations officer, told The Bush Chicken that prior to issuing the press statement, the city had observed that fire was regularly visible at six of its disposal sites, which “poses a serious environmental threat to residents.”

Pekeleh Gbuapaye, media relations officer at the Monrovia City Corporation. Photo: Zeze Ballah

Gbuapaye said the city was contemplating deploying officers to monitor garbage disposal sites to prevent people from lighting trash on fire.

“We will not accept any unlawful act and because of such, MCC has taken the appropriate measures,” he maintained.

“Anyone caught burning garbage or lighting fire in the MCC garbage skip bins will be dealt according to the corporation’s mandate.”

But the city’s warning against burning trash may seem impractical, as there are real reasons why people burn garbage in their communities.

Abraham Z. Ziah, the former chair of the Catholic Hospital community, agreed with the city that burning garbage presented a health hazard, however, he demanded that measures be put in place to provide an alternative to burning.

While his community does not fall within the boundaries of the city, the Monrovia City Corporation is responsible for waste collection in areas far outside its jurisdiction, such as his.

The former Catholic Hospital community chair explained that residents in his community find that their garbage piles are not collected by MCC, which drives residents to burn their trash to avoid it piling up unnecessarily.

“My community does not have a single skip bin for garbage disposal,” Ziah added.

Abraham Z. Ziah, the former chair of the Catholic Hospital community. Photo: Zeze Ballah

He said if garbage from various houses in the community are disposed off and remain piled up for days without being burned, there is a possibility of a disease outbreak in the community, because flies can sit on the trash and then transfer to food being consumed by community dwellers.

“The city government has also not informed the communities on how to dispose their garbage,” he added.

“MCC needs to protect the communities from such environment hazard by making sure that skip bins are situated in every community and are collected on time.”

Rebecca Zeo, who plant and sell potato greens to make ends meet, told The Bush Chicken that community residents usually throw dead dogs, rats, cats, and chickens at disposal sites, which she said pollutes the community.

Rebecca Zeo’ potato greens garden is adjacent a garbage disposal site. Photo: Zeze Ballah

In addition, Zeo said used baby diapers are also thrown away by the residents at disposal sites, which are sometimes taken back into the community by dogs.
“If we do not burn the garbage, the community becomes polluted,” she added.

Zeo, whose garden is adjacent a disposal site, mentioned that she removes plastic bags every day containing feces close to the garden and demanded an alternative if the city government wanted residents to refrain from burning garbage.

To make matter worse, she said there are many houses in the community without toilets, which brings another kind of waste to the site that draws mosquitoes.

“If we do not burn the garbage, we will get ill and die in a week because there are many things the community residents throw away at the disposal sites,” she said.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Zeze Ballah

Zeze made his journalism debut as a high school reporter at the LAMCO Area School System. In 2016 and 2017, the Press Union of Liberia awarded Zeze with the Photojournalist of the Year award. Zeze was also the union's 2017 Health Reporter of the Year. He is a Health Journalism Fellow with Internews.

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