More questions than answers


This is the Kingston Wharf, a couple of years ago, on a clear day. It would not look like this today. The fire is still burning, or is it? We are being told that it is extinguished one minute, the next it is still smoking, and “cooling down” activities are underway. So does this mean it is still burning? Is the entire thing extinguished? How many acres burned? What is left? How much did it cost? How many firefighters were involved? Was anyone injured? What private sector companies participated? Was it arson (we are being told it was)?

We are also being told that recent air tests taken on March 13 and 14 (which still have not been released by the Ministry of Health) showed benzene levels at the highest levels ever. What does this mean? What is benzene? What does it do to people? What can we do to protect ourselves? How long does it stay in the ecosystem and one’s body? What other chemicals are now in the air? How long will they stay in the atmosphere? What will be done to prevent this from happening again?

You know your communications strategy has gone awry when there are way more questions that answers prompted by the information you as a government release. You also know it has gone awry when you release key health information more than a week after what has been declared a public health emergency started.

So it is left to journalists to scrape up what little information they can from government officials who seem to know little themselves. Then it is left to enterprising bloggers and social media folks to fill in the gaps with questions. Here is a wonderful blog on the Riverton fire. It provides essential information that the government should have had on hand, ready to release, pending a public health emergency such as this. It is not like this is the first time the Riverton dump has burned. I think this is the TWELFTH time in a decade. Instead, officials are acting as if this has never happened before. It is exhausting trying to get information here. It is an exercise in endurance and persistence that often produces little or no results. And people get burnt out.

In any case, as I have said before, I keep thinking about the people who live right near the dump. The people who have no money to go elsewhere, as the government advised them to do more than a week after the dump started to burn. They can’t close their windows, they can’t afford to go elsewhere. I haven’t heard anything about emergency shelters being set up. What about them?

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