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Lack of control at landfill fire

A large plume of smoke rises from the Dangkor Landfill in Phnom Penh on Friday.
A large plume of smoke rises from the Dangkor Landfill in Phnom Penh on Friday. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Lack of control at landfill fire

As the fire at the capital’s Dangkor Landfill continues to smoulder one week on, officials on Monday acknowledged problems in waste management noncompliance and the public health threat caused by the fire’s pollution, but answers to what can be done to prevent a repeat remain elusive.

“Frankly speaking, the landfills in Cambodia are not fully compliant to the guidelines,” said Dy Kiden, the director of the Ministry of Environment’s Office of Solid Waste Management.

Kiden was quick to note that the management of the Dangkor Landfill – which has been burning since last Monday due to a build-up in methane gases underground – is the responsibility of municipal authorities and that at a national level the ministry has no mechanism to enforce the rules. However, Kiden said, the guidelines written by the ministry do include provisions that may have prevented this kind of fire.

“Generally . . . they should implement the mechanism to properly operate the landfill to prevent any fires and so on that may occur by chance,” he said, adding that “sometimes we can just ask the sub-national level to . . . correct the improper management”.

Landfill fires are known to pose considerable public health risks due to the fine particles and toxic compounds in the smoke. Health Ministry spokesman Ly Sovann on Friday had expressed concern over the putrid haze the Dangkor Landfill fire has caused for the city’s residents in the past week. On Monday, he said that so far data from the city’s public health centres have not picked up on an increase in respiratory illnesses.

In a statement to The Post, the World Health Organization’s country office said that 2012 data show that about 11.6 percent of all deaths can be attributed to air pollution.

“[These deaths are] largely as a result of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections,” it read.

Over 80 percent of urban dwellers globally are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO guidelines, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, the WHO said.

Ith Chenda, operations manager for Cintri, which delivers waste to the landfill, on Monday again distanced the company from responsibility for the fire.

“The site is under the management of the City Hall. Cintri is not responsible,” he said.

The Dangkor Landfill manager, Keo Chanrith, on Monday said that while reduced, burning continues at one of two dumpsites. Part of the problem, he said, is the lack of waste triage, as kitchen gas canisters and batteries that increase the risk of a fire should not be entering the landfill.

But landfill fires occur every dry season, he said, adding that there was little to be done to stop them.

“No matter what measures we have, or how hard we try to put [fires] out, we cannot put [them] out,” he said, adding that the main fire control measure is to pump water into the landfill.

“We don’t want to have smoke anymore,” he said. “There is an effect on health. I am frankly speaking that I regret this; I don’t want the fire to happen.”

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