The huge fire that engulfed the waste plant in Marsa on Tuesday was the third major incident of the sort since 2017, as residents in neighbouring areas are once again left to inhale toxic fumes with little or no explanation.
Firefighters from the Civil Protection Department (CPD) were called to control a fire that erupted at the Wasteserv Facility in Marsa last week. The CPD advised residents of Paula, Fgura, Tarxien and Santa Lucija to keep their windows shut because the fumes from the fires were toxic.
No one was injured in the fire. Yet, as one expert told The Shift, inhaling smoke from toxic waste can be very dangerous.
“Rarely do victims die from the heat impact. It’s more to do with poisoning from smoke inhalation. So clearly, smoke from burning waste or from a forest fire needs to be avoided and closing windows and plugging any openings is certainly useful and does afford a level of protection,” Professor Alfred Vella told The Shift.
Smoke from burning material is always concerning, Vella added.
“We do know that, among the hundreds of substances found in smoke, some of which in minute quantities, others at much higher concentrations, there are several which are very toxic, among which carbon monoxide which oftentimes kills victims of fire incidents.”
He cautioned that exposure to smoke can be harmful but depends on exposure: “The oldest rule in toxicology is the following: it is the dose that makes the poison”.
The fires in Marsa are reminiscent of previous incidents that left the public concerned as they witnessed expanding thick clouds of toxic smoke approach their house.
The recycling plant of Sant’ Antnin in Marsascala was engulfed in a huge fire in 2017. The blaze spread at an alarming rate and the Civil Protection Department took a whole day to control the raging fires.
In August the following year, a fire erupted at the waste centre in Maghtab. The authorities had said it would take days to put the fire out completely. The cloud of smoke spread through neighbouring towns like Bahar Ic-Caghaq, White Rocks, Sliema and San Gwann with health authorities warning residents of the adverse affects this smoke could have on their health.
Fortunately, no one was injured in any of these separate incidents over the past four years and yet the frequency of these incidents is in itself a cause for concern.
A source who spoke to The Shift said he wouldn’t go as far to claim there was any foul play behind these fires, although the frequency indicates “something is very wrong”.
“I’m pretty sure that incompetence is what’s causing these fires,” he said.
Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia said in parliament that a magisterial inquiry and an internal investigation will be launched to look into the cause of the fire. When questioned by Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami, the Minister did not give the terms of reference stipulated for this inquiry.
While a new investigation is a logical step to take, the questions surrounding previous fires have not yet been addressed.
A magisterial inquiry looking into the fire at the Sant’ Antnin facility in Marsascala has not yet been made public after three years.
Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis had replied to questions in parliament in May this year saying that only the magistrate in charge of the inquiry can establish a date when this will be concluded.
A similar thing happened when the fire erupted in the waste plant in Maghtab. Then-Environment Minister Jose’ Herrera had said that there was no need for a magisterial inquiry but did appoint an internal inquiry to look into the causes of the fire.