Disasters & Accidents

Fire at large landfill near Panama’s capital emits cloud of toxic fumes

Panama City, Feb 14 (EFE).- A new fire at Panama’s largest landfill has released a large cloud of toxic fumes that is affecting a portion of this capital, authorities and environmental activists said Tuesday.

Firefighters are still working to extinguish the blaze that began on Monday afternoon at Cerro Patacon, a landfill located to the northwest of Panama City, according to official reports.

“Last night we had five (firefighters) affected by smoke inhalation,” the captain of the Panama Fire Department’s suppression, search and rescue division, Danilo Ortega, told Efe. “It’s complicated because there’s a lot of toxic organic and chemical (fumes) emanating from this (landfill) fire.”

Authorities warned the fumes could reach Panama City and cause respiratory problems, especially among children, the elderly, patients with heart conditions and people with weakened immune systems.

They therefore urged people to stay away from the area and seek medical attention if they experience any related health issues.

Panama’s Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology warned Monday night about the spreading smoke, which was moving to the south of the landfill due to stable winds of 22 kilometers (13.5 miles) per hour.

“Combustion of these materials generates dioxins and furans, as well as particulate material that directly affects communities near the site. In Panama, the wind blows from the north and basically spreads those gases over the city,” Isaias Ramos, of the Environmental Advocacy Center, told Efe.

Although the cause of the fire is unknown, the Panamanian Environment Ministry’s director of environmental performance verification, Miguel Flores, told Efe that “dangerous substances” on Cerro Patacon could have been responsible for the blaze.

“Since, generally speaking, proper management has been lacking for daily (landfill) covering and compacting and avoiding or reducing the risk of fire, we can’t be entire certain of the causes,” Flores said.

He added though that “if all goes well and the weather cooperates” the fire may be extinguished by the end of the day.

Both Flores and Ramos said blazes occur regularly at landfills in Panama and recalled that a serious fire raged at Cerro Patacon for nearly a week in 2013.

“It’s a recurrent situation year after year, in that and other landfills. It stems from inefficient waste management in Panama. No government has been willing to adequately manage and reduce waste,” Ramos said.

Besides affecting people, both experts said the environment also is at risk because the fire, the ashes and the toxic fumes affect vegetation, the soil and nearby water resources. EFE


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