Can you imagine being surrounded by a thick cloud of putrid smoke everyday? Well that is exactly what Corozal residents have been experiencing for the past 4 weeks. Residents from a host of communities including San Narciso, Louisville, San Victor, Santa Clara, San Roman, Cristo Rey and Concepcion are being affected. The fumes are coming from a burning dumpsite in a nearby Mexican community, Health authorities have not confirmed which community that is as yet. But residents say it is unbearable and they are desperately in need of some relief because it is affecting their health. We spoke to a concerned San Narciso resident via phone today.
Voice of Vianelle Puck - San Narciso Village "We have been experiencing this smoke for almost 3 weeks, this is going to be the 4th week we are experiencing this smoke. It is happening more now like around 2:00, 3:00 in the morning and it goes throughout the day, It is really thick and it has a terrible stench. It is causing a lot of problems, a lot of breathing problems, coughing, wheezing, infections in the throat and ears and nose. And later last week, we received a memo stating that we have to be closing our doors and coping with the smoke and if we can't keep with it that we have to relocate, to me that is unfair because it is really affecting our health. And the thing is even if you lock the doors, the smoke always comes inside."
Reporter "So no matter what you do you guys are still affected."
Voice of Vianelle Puck "No matter what we doÃ¢â‚¬¦ yes, yes, we are still affected and the thing is miss like how I teach in the school, when we open our classrooms, we can't tolerate the scent in the classroom, like this morning when I open the classroom, I could not even let my kids go in the classroom because it was so strong like when you are burning tires or tampers or something like that, it was that strong and we could not cope with it so I had to go in the classroom and open the windows and doors and put on the fan and then let the kids inside the classroom. We have a teacher in our faculty that she suffers from her lungs and she is having a hard time teaching because she can't stop coughing, she can't even breathe; she has to nebulize herself every morning before coming to school. I just really hope that something is done about it because we can't continue living like this."
But there is nothing much that Belizean health officials can do at this point. They have contacted the Mexican authorities and are awaiting a response. Here is Principal Public Health Inspector John Bodden on the issue.
Voice of John Bodden - Principal Public Health Inspector "This is actually the first of this kind of situation that we have had, a trans boundary issue so far what we have done is the CEO has actually reported the incident to the Mexican Ambassador here in Belize to see if they can consult with their authorities in Mexico and what they have done is send information to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the situation and requesting what sort of action is being done in the area and we should be receiving a report from them and they told us on Monday and that should be coming from the Ministry of the Environment in Mexico. Similarly we have the director of health services because of our great working relationship with neighbouring Chetumal, has sent an email to the sub secretary of the Ministry of Health notifying them of the issue that we are having currently in our region to see if they can assist us in terms of ensuring that there is some control to that nuisance."
"The only thing that will make a difference is if there is change in wind patterns whereby if it would move the opposite direction because the way the drifting is happening is across the mainland and we don't have any control over that and that is why we have intervened and requested from the Ambassador to find out what mechanisms are in place now to affect that burning. The only thing we can do is advise people what to do and what we will be doing as a consequence of this in terms of monitoring the status of the health of individuals just to be on stand by and to receive reports from community health workers in the area if there is need for medical assistance in terms of health we will be intervening there."
As you heard, the Mexican Health officials should respond by Monday. In the meantime, residents of these affected communities should take precaution. In a Ministry of Health release it states that residents can protect themselves by "Avoiding physical activities outdoors if smoke is in the air, following your doctor's orders to manage conditions such as asthma or lung disease which may worsen, staying indoors and keeping windows and doors closed, only open windows and doors for fresh air when the smoke situation has improved, pay attention to the heat indoors and if it becomes hot, use a fan or air conditioner to circulate air, avoid using food boilers, candles, incense, gas stoves or smoking cigarettes inside the house as it adds to indoor fumes. The Ministry reminds the public if the above recommendations cannot be met, people should consider leaving to a safe area."
Now that option is a bit extreme for some residents so they just have to cope with the smoke as best as possible. Health officials say the burning of sugar cane is making the situation worse. We will keep following this story.
Health officials are on standby in several northern communities in the Corozal District following multiple reports of thick smoke emitting from Mexico that has been blanketing the affected communities and disrupting air quality for residents.
The Reporter has confirmed that for the past three weeks residents in the communities of San Narciso, Louisville, San Victor, Santa Clara, San Roman, Cristo Rey and Concepcion have been severely affected by the smoke that is drifting into Belize from a burning dump site in Mexico.
On Friday the Reporter spoke with Principal Health Inspector for the MOH John Bodden who confirmed that the Ministry has contacted the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Health In Mexico as well as the Mexican Embassy in Belize to inform them of the situation.
According to Bodden since the situation is of a trans border nature there is nothing much that the MOH or MOE in Belize can do but to lodge a formal report at the Sub-Directorate of the Environment in Chetumal to have the matter addressed. Reports from Bodden are that Mexican officials are expected to provide an update by Monday on what sort of intervention methods they are doing to abate the situation.
In the interim Bodden noted ”We just want to remind people that in the event of excessive smoke please stay indoors and keep windows and doors closed. Only open windows and doors for fresh air when the smoke situation has improve and refrain from lighting candles or cigarettes indoors. If persons can leave the area then that that would be best for them. The Ministry will be on standby for any emergency health needs.”
The situation has prompted the Ministry of Health in Belize to issue a press release on April 2nd informing residents in the affected communities that inhalation of the smoke is unhealthy and if residents cannot leave the area then they are urged to keep indoors until the situation is brought under control.
Residents who have taken to social media to complain about the situation strongly oppose relocating citing the lack of anywhere else to go. Some residents were also urging health officials to be out on the grounds handing out face mask to residents.
The air clears in Villages in the Corozal District
The thick smoke that has been affecting some villages in the Corozal District over several weeks has cleared up. Chairman Elvis Correa of San Narciso Village, one of the affected villages, says the smoke has cleared up for at least three days now and so has the stench that had accompanied the smoke.
Elvin Correa Chairman, San Narciso Village: “I received a call from the Ministry of Health that the Mexicans have informed that they are controlling the place there at Chetumal or something like that.”
Dalila Ical: “So over the weekend it started?”
Elvis Correra Chairman, San Narciso Village: “Well a little bit, not much especially around 4 o’clock, 3 o’clock in the morning, the bad odor would fill the air.”
Dalila Ical: “How long did you guys have to deal with that?”
Elvis Correra Chairman, San Narciso Village: “Well this thing started I think on the 17th of March from Sunday to Monday. That was one of the worst nights that we have ever lived because the smoke was black and a lot of bad order was all around here. As I feel this thing that was happening I contacted the Chairman of Patchakan, Yo Chen, Concepcion, San Victor and those that were feeling it in San Roman and Santa Clara, they were feeling that smoke there too and the bad order.”
Dalila Ical: “And these other villages, have it cleared up as well?”
Elvis Correra Chairman, San Narciso Village: “Yes as well.”
Dalila Ical: “Were there any serious health implications for anybody in the village. Was there any report?”
Elvis Correra Chairman, San Narciso Village: “A lot, a lot especially young children. I heard that there is a lot of something in throat, a lot of children had that so far, especially in the school.”
Dalia Ical: “Nobody was eventually hospitalized, nothing?”
Elvis Correra Chairman, San Narciso Village: “As I know, no. I don’t know if there is someone but their person that informed me, no I don’t know.”
San Narciso is the largest village in the Corozal District with approximately three thousand residents. There are approximately six hundred children enrolled in the primary school in that community.