Questions and answers about the RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment assistance on Sint Maarten.

Questions and answers about the RIVM report

The RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment published the report 'Investigation of the air quality around the landfill Sint Maarten 2019' on 1 July 2019. Below are some questions and answers about the results.

The Environmental Incident Service (MOD) of the RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment took measurements in the vicinity of the landfill sit. During the presence of the RIVM there were no open fires at the landfill. No or hardly any substances were measure. In some cases, the concentrations of aluminium and possibly of chromium measured were found to exceed the standards that apply if people were to breathe these substances continuously throughout their lives. For PAHs, some samples exceeded the standards that would apply if these substances were ingested daily during a lifetime. However, the health effects of these exceedances are negligible.

During the presence of the RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment there were no open fires at the landfill site. Therefore the RIVM is not able to assess the potential health risks of substances released during  an open fire. In order to do so, it is necessary to take measurements during an open fire. The local fire department could perform this task. If requested, the RIVM can support the fire brigade with specialized equipment and knowledge.  

Smoke is always unhealthy. Inhaled smoke can quickly cause symptoms ranging from burning eyes to irritation of the nasal cavity, throat, or respiratory tract. Vulnerable groups of people are more susceptible to such problems. 

RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment chooses a selection that is representative of the situation as a whole. In addition, the samples selected included the samples that were taken on days and at locations where, for example, odour was noticed or when smoke plumes from burning fires were visible at the landfill site. Analysing samples costs time and money, therefore we always choose a selection of monsters to analyse.

We were specifically commissioned to carry out measurements and take samples in the vicinity of the landfill site. The World Bank actually carried out measurements at the landfill site itself in an earlier research study. See: <<link to report>> 

This research study did not include any research into the cause of health problems of persons living nearby. However, during our visit to Sint Maarten, we did talk to and see people who suffered from the odour and the smoke. It’s a fact that smoke and odour nuisance can lead to health problems such as stinging eyes, coughing, headaches, and nausea.

No. RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment did not take any measurements then. However, RIVM did lend canisters to the fire service on Sint Maarten so that measurements could be done after a fire. The results of these measurements show that higher levels of volatile organic compounds are measured when a fire breaks out. However, we do not have all the information needed to carry out a proper risk assessment. If requested, we could assist the fire service of Sint Maarten in determining an effective measurement strategy and choice of sampling instruments, so that they will be able to act effectively in that regard in future. 

No. If a fire breaks out, it is important to be able to carry out measurements as quickly as possible. In view of the distance, this is not a feasible option for RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment . However, RIVM can support the local fire service with knowledge and expertise on carrying out measurements in relation to fires and evaluating the measurement results. 

No. RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment visited Sint Maarten only to carry out measurements and take samples in order to be able to assess the potential health risks. The funds contributed by the Netherlands for the reconstruction of Sint Maarten included an amount of 25 million US dollars to be used for bringing the situation at the landfill site under control. This project, the Emergency Debris Management Project, is being carried out by Sint Maarten in cooperation with the World Bank. For more information about this project, see: ….

That is presently not on the agenda. 

Questions and answers about the measurement period

From 21 January 2019 to 6 February the RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment was on Sint Maarten to make measurements and take samples at various locations around the landfill in Philipsburg. . The measurements and samples were needed to estimate potential risks to the health of people in the vicinity of the landfill. Below you find some questions and answers about this period of measurements.

Measurements and samples are needed to gather information about hazardous substances released by smouldering fires and outbreaks of fire at the Philipsburg landfill. RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment  National Institute for Public Health and the Environment   uses this information to assess the potential risks posed to the health of people in the vicinity of the landfill.

Specialist knowledge and equipment are needed to make these types of measurements, to conduct specific analyses, and to assess any risks to health. The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations has requested the services of RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment ’s Environmental Incident Service in this case, as the government of Sint Maarten does not possess this expertise.

Measuring and sampling operations will take place around the landfill and at various sites on Sint Maarten which are yet to be determined. The exact locations of these sites will depend on factors such as the wind direction.

When taking these types of samples, our team members always wear protective clothing. This is simply a precaution. Cleanliness is very important when taking samples. This is to avoid contaminating samples with substances from people’s hands, for example.

A team from RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment  will be operating in the area for several weeks. These people will be installing measuring equipment and taking samples in the event of any outbreaks of fire.

All of RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment ’s work is commissioned by public sector agencies. Since the end of 2018, RIVM has been in contact with various parties, such as the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, concerning a possible assignment to make measurements on Sint Maarten.

Smoke is always unhealthy. Inhaled smoke can quickly cause symptoms ranging from burning eyes to irritation of the nasal cavity, throat, or respiratory tract. RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment will use special analyses to check whether certain substances also have been released that can be harmful to people’s health in the long term. This concerns substances that are carcinogenic, for example, or that can affect the respiratory tract, organs, or the nervous system.
The results of these measurements and analyses are also relevant in terms of efforts to make the situation on the landfill control manageable, a project that the government of Sint Maarten executes with the support of the World Bank.

RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment ’s team will spend at least two weeks on Sint Maarten, taking samples and making measurements. If there are no outbreaks of fire during those two weeks, the team may extend its stay. Should that be the case, RIVM will discuss alternative options with the commissioning client and the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations.

No. RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment will collect the samples and see to it that they are stored and transported to the Netherlands under appropriate conditions. After arriving in the Netherlands, the samples will be analysed by various laboratories. It will take about three weeks to complete the analysis of all these samples. RIVM will then submit a report of its findings. RIVM will also include the measurement results in that report. This report will be issued in mid-May 2019, at the earliest.

No. The sole purpose of RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment ’s operation on Sint Maarten is to make measurements and take samples, in order to assess any potential health risks.

RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment ’s investigation will be funded by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. It will be funded from the Dutch contribution to help Sint Maarten suppress the landfill filers and improve the management of the waste disposal sites in Philipsburg. This project, the Emergency Debris Management Project, is being executed by Sint Maarten in collaboration with the World Bank.