Residents of Le Destin, East Bank Essequibo have started suffering health problems after a farmer started burning paddy shells for his cash crops and they are calling on the authorities to take immediate action.
They said the farmer, who only recently moved to the area, has been burning the shells during the morning and at night since January last and this is causing some persons to suffer discomfort and breathing problems.
A few women told Stabroek News that they have been diagnosed with slight bronchitis while their children wake up with severe coughing and have developed a “blowing.”
And an elderly resident told Stabroek News that he started suffering eye irritation after he returned home from a vacation last month.
His eyes were red, swollen and hurting him badly and he did everything he could but did not get relief. A few days ago he visited the ophthalmologist and was told that the irritation was caused by “smoke.”
Another resident told this newspaper that he wakes up during the night with a burning sensation in his nostrils and would not be able to fall asleep again until a few hours later.
He tried talking to the farmer to get him to desist but found him very hostile.
The resident had even read him a three-page document prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture about the dangers of the practice, but the farmer remarked that no one can stop him from burning because he was making a living from his farm.
According to him, because the man is bent on burning the shells he tried to “reason with him” to burn only in the morning because at night people are affected more, but he is still not willing to accede to the residents’ wishes.
Reports have been made to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but the residents said “the EPA is failing to protect the environment and the people.”
The resident said he “spoke to a young lady from the EPA on Monday and she said they can only recommend and issue directive for the man to stop, but there is no law against the burning of paddy shells. If there is no law then they should make a law.
“People believe that the more they burn [the shells] the better produce they would get, but they are destroying the soil and residents’ health as well.”
This newspaper contacted Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud and he promised to send an officer from the EPA to deal with the matter.
He said the EPA would have to take action “because it is an environmental hazard.”
An official from the EPA when contacted about whether there is a law against the burning of paddy shells instructed Stabroek News to call Executive Director Indrajeet Ramdass who “would be able to facilitate any of your questions.”
When contacted, Ramdass said while there is no law against the burning of paddy shafts specifically, a policy decision has been taken to prosecute offenders.
He said though that there is a law against the polluting of the environment such as with dust, smoke or noise. He also acknowledged that the burning has been an issue all over the country and said it should not be permitted.
With regard to the case at Le Destin, Ramdass said he would have to check the file to determine what further actions can be taken. He would also find out whether the police had been informed.
Residents also told this newspaper they had sent a petition, signed by several residents, to the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC).
According to them, chairman, Milton Dookie had instructed the Environmental Health Officer (EHO) to send a notice to the farmer and residents learnt that so far three notices had already been sent.
However, they feel that Dookie is not dealing firmly enough with the man. They have also reported the matter to the police who said the EHO would have to tell them to stop the man before they can do so.
The frustrated residents said it appears as though the only thing left for them to do is to “disrupt him by putting the fire out… His behaviour is resulting in bad neighbourly relationship.”
Meanwhile in the document, the Ministry of Agriculture and the EPA have acknowledged that the “burning of paddy shells in residential and built up areas is strictly prohibited” and called on all farmers to “desist from this practice immediately.”
It highlighted the negative consequences of burning on the soil and noted that instead farmers should use the burnt ash from the factory or if they must burn, do so in the backdam. Farmers were also advised to use manure from animals or composted materials.
The document pointed to the fact that the complete burning of paddy shells can take up to three days, and the amount of smoke produced is tremendous.
It noted too that persons are directly affected by the smoke emitted and that it has a stifling effect which no one should be subjected to.
It further stated that inhaling hot smoke can have devastating effects on the delicate tissues of the respiratory system. Serious smoke inhalation can lead to smaller airways deeper down in the respiratory system to become blocked.
According to the document, “the US EPA has concluded that exposure to smoke can cause lung cancer in adults.”
It also found that the smoke increases the risk of heart disease and asthma in children and also results in sudden infant deaths. Children who are regularly exposed to smoke are at risk of lower respiratory tract infection such as pneumonia and bronchitis.