An East Bank Demerara businessman yesterday denied burning tyres causing heavy black smoke which made breathing difficult for residents and clouded a section of the Friendship Public Road forcing motorists to proceed with caution.
Ramchan Netram owns a scrap-iron yard located opposite the Oxygen Limited at Friendship, East Bank Demerara. A pile of tyres and debris located in the rear of the yard was set ablaze Saturday evening and continued smoking up to press time.
Despite contradicting complaints from a number of residents, Netram told Stabroek News that the fire was started accidentally by one of his workers.
“The fire was started accidentally by one of the boys working there,” Netram said. “He was smoking a cigarette and he dropped in on the ground. This caused the ground to ignite.”
Netram insisted that the fire was not intentionally started and said he would “write letters of apology to the residents, the Ministry of Health and other ministries”. The man said he was first made aware of the fire early yesterday morning.
“The residents called me and I had one of my female workers call the fire service,” Netram said. “After trying about ten times she finally got connected with 911 and reported the incident…this is the first time something like this is happening.”
However, Friendship residents affected by the heavy smoke charged that from last September to now this is the fourth time such an incident has occurred at the businessman’s premises. They further said it was one of them and not Netram’s employee who reported the incident to the Fire Service.
“This is the first time this year he has burned anything there,” Darshanie Singh, who lives two houses from the smoking scrap iron yard, said. “But this is not the first time this is happening…”
The blaze started some time Saturday evening, Singh said, and after the flames died down it started to smoke. An acrid smell accompanies the smoke, the woman explained, and it blackens her walls, floor, furniture, windows and clothes. Breathing is extremely difficult and mothers are concerned about their children’s health.
“Right now my throat is burning, I feel upset and the smell is giving me a headache…my daughter was forced to lock her children up in the house with the fan on in an effort to give them some comfort,” Singh explained.
Singh’s claim was supported by Parbati Sukhu, who lives next door to the scrap iron yard, and Rovanna Persaud who lives between Sukhu and Singh. Ramchand Sukhai, Dhanwantie Babichand and Brijraj Etwaroo are also among the group of distressed residents. More than 30 families are being affected, residents averaged, and the smoke is blown south and south-west for as far as three miles.
“Look, a man came all the way from Garden of Eden this morning to see where the smoke was coming from,” Sukhai told this newspaper, “and Garden of Eden is about three miles from here and he is not the only one who has been enquiring.”
Sukhai has a son who suffers from breathing difficulties. The young man’s breathing issues were made worse by the smoke and after the second incident, Sukhai said, he sent his son to stay with relatives.
“This is the fourth time we are dealing with this smoke,” Sukhai said, “and we have told this man Netram about it… We have told the police and they still have not responded.”
Rovanna Persaud said that the third time they experienced the smoke problem employees from the Oxygen Limited came to her house for assistance.
“The last time this thing happen the Oxygen company was taking a large amount smoke for a while and some of the employees came over at my house and I had to give the woman Limacol and so on to help them feel better,” Persaud related.
When Stabroek News arrived at the scene shortly after 10.30 yesterday morning fire ranks were working with Netram’s workers to prevent the smouldering area from reigniting and had somewhat controlled the smoke. Though the firemen responded promptly they were having a water supply problem. The firemen arrived at the location sometime before 8 am and departed just before 2 pm yesterday.
Residents said they have met with Netram twice already and have complained to him repeatedly via telephone.
“When we told him what the smoke is doing to us and our homes he said that he would bring soap powder and bleach for us to clean,” Persaud recalled. “Soap powder and bleach is not the problem. The problem is that it is not fair for us to be cleaning repeatedly and our health is being affected by this too.”
Residents have not reported the matter to the Environmental Protection Agency or the Ministry of Health. However, a representative group will visit these organizations some time this week if the problem continues.
Meanwhile, drivers of both private and public transportation said that while the smoke was at its heaviest, driving along the stretch of road was very dangerous. A taxi driver, who requested anonymity, said he could barely see where he was driving.
“The smoke was so thick earlier that I could barely see where I was driving on this Public Road,” the man recalled, “we all had to put on our hazard lights and drive through real slow.”