‘Toxic’ fumes anger residents

By Deidre Fanene ,

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IT'S NOT A UMU: Some images from Falelauniu and Tafaigata where the fire has been causing headaches.

IT'S NOT A UMU: Some images from Falelauniu and Tafaigata where the fire has been causing headaches. (Photo: Tony Callaghan, The Samoan Photographer)

Residents at Falelauniu and nearby areas spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning battling toxic fumes from a fire at the Tafa’igata Rubbish dump.

It’s not the first time the residents have had to deal with the issue. The fire is also not new as it had flared up earlier this year, lasting for a couple of weeks.

So when the fumes permeated through the air on Wednesday night, the residents knew exactly where it came from. And on Thursday morning, they awoke to find smoke billowing from the rubbish dump, a sight they have seen before.

Onotolu Falefala said his family struggled to sleep on Wednesday night.

“Whatever was burnt it sure smelled toxic,” he said. “We live in an open fale and the smoke was hard to inhale. It was like the fire was right next to our house.”

Further down at Nu’u and Aele, it was just as bad.

“I couldn’t recognise the colour of my house when I woke up on Thursday morning,” said Petone Aumalia. “I thought it was a Sunday morning with the smoke from the umu except the smell was horrible.”

According to residents, the fire started on Wednesday night at around 11.

Mr. Falefala said they immediately contacted the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (F.E.S.A). 

But the response, he said, was less than satisfactory. “The person said that we should contact M.N.R.E.” M.N.R.E is the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the government body responsible for the Tafaigata Rubbish dump.

 “It’s disappointing because even if it’s the M.N.R.E who are responsible for this, they should still come to put the fire out.

“All we wanted for them to do was to come and put the fire out because if it spreads then all of us who are living close to the area will be affected.” Asked for a comment, the F.E.S.A Commissioner Lelevaga Fa’afouina Mupõ rejected the claim, saying they responded immediately.

 “Yes we did get a call from residents who live near the area about the fire on Wednesday night around 11pm,” he said.

“We did respond and we managed to put out the fire on that same night.”

 

But Lelevaga said the issue of rubbish is the responsibility of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

“We responded anyway because we were thinking of the people living near the area,” said Lelevaga. “We prioritize what matters and so with this matter it was the safety of the people living in that area that we were thinking about.

“So we responded to it as soon as we received the call.”

Lelevaga went on to say that the Tafaigata Landfill is a big area and unless rubbish is reduced, it would eventually lead a fire. He was reluctant however to elaborate as he said this is something M.N.R.E has to find a solution for.

“As for us, we did our job,” he said.

 “Up until now we don’t know who might have set the rubbish on fire but nobody knew until the fire went big and that’s when the people started calling us.”

As of yesterday morning, the smoke was not as bad as it was the night before. 

Still, the residents in the area said the government has to make dealing with the issue a priority.

“We are inhaling these fumes,” said one Vaitele-fou man who wished to remain anonymous. 

“I’m not an expert in matters of the environment but my human gut feeling tells me that these fumes are poisonous and hazardous. My children are also inhaling them and so are thousands of other people in the area. 

“This is coming from plastics and other materials that are not supposed to be burnt. Does anyone care to find out why these fires keep on happening?”

Attempts to get a comment from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment yesterday were unsuccessful.

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