Authorities address Landfill fire concerns on Bonaire: No air samples taken, no official disaster declaration”

KRALENDIJK – Yesterday marked day four of what many island residents see as a disaster. Since Friday, large amounts of black smoke have been rising from the landfill. Wooden pallets, garden waste, and tires have been burning for several days. A fire that seems unstoppable. For days, authorities remained silent. Until yesterday afternoon. Both the Caribbean Netherlands Fire Department (fire brigade), the Public Entity of Bonaire, and SeliBon shared their story.

Residents are at their wits’ end. Several of them have been evacuated to various hotels on the island. This group has grown larger again on Monday. Not only is there economic damage, many have reported experiencing physical complaints. There is also animal suffering. One resident told, “In the Netherlands, there are several parties ready to help in a disaster. Where are they here on Bonaire? Netherlands, please come help us.” The cry for help is becoming clearer. Yet, it seems that the authorities on Bonaire do not consider the landfill fire a disaster. It remained silent for days.

The biggest problem seemed to be the released smoke. Residents had to be evacuated. Children as well as adults reported having respiratory problems. Their fear of toxic smoke was significant. To assess whether this smoke is toxic, air samples can be taken. It was unclear whether this had been done. According to a spokesperson for SeliBon, the smoke: ‘Is not so dangerous.’ At least that is what the waste processing company has heard from the Directorate of Supervision & Enforcement of the Public Entity of Bonaire (OLB) and the fire brigade. The spokesperson adds, “Toxic smoke may be present. But according to those authorities, the smoke is not that bad. As far as we’re concerned, they are the experts in this field.” The OLB states that the fire department is responsible for taking samples. OLB spokesperson Kenneth Charlemagne says the following about this, “The fire department is responsible for taking samples. Not us. Each organization deals specifically with what it is responsible for. Of course, we do work together.”

However, it seems that no samples were taken. The SeliBon spokesperson says, “It concerns garden waste and a few tires. The fire department has decided not to take samples.” Residents who have experienced physical complaints were advised as follows, “Residents who have physical complaints are best off going to a general practitioner or doctor,” said the spokesperson.

The fire department decided to let the fire burn out in a controlled manner. They believe that with better combustion, the smoke rises better. There are also fewer incompletely burned and dangerous substances in the smoke. According to fire department spokesperson Janou Troeman, it would be a misconception to think that they take samples to assess whether the smoke would be toxic: “Indeed, no (air) samples have been taken. It is a misconception that the fire department would do something like that. We do have measuring equipment with which we can measure whether we can work safely in the immediate vicinity of the fire. The fire department in the Netherlands sometimes takes air samples for the RIVM so that an analysis can be made of the substances in the smoke. What exactly was burned in the fire? That is not entirely clear. It concerns a thick layer of waste with various types of materials.”

Thus, it remains unclear which substances people have inhaled in the vicinity of the landfill. With the underlying idea that many residents have developed respiratory problems, the following question remains unanswered: ‘Which (toxic) substances have entered the air and what have people inhaled?’

Burning tires is carcinogenic. This is stated by toxicologist professor Jan Tytgat from KU Leuven in an article from the importance of Limburg. According to Tytgat, substances such as benzene, benzopyrene, and butadiene are released during combustion. These are very harmful to health and the environment: “Benzene is a carcinogenic substance that causes leukemia.” The professor emphasizes that the air from burning tires contains toxic gases: “In addition, fine particles are released during combustion to which other harmful substances can adhere. These can nest deep in the lungs.” Source:


To stop the fire and smoke, SeliBon announced on Saturday that they would cover the fire. This process started on Monday. According to the fire department spokesperson, SeliBon is responsible for the execution: “The fire department provides advice. SeliBon covers.” It could be a first step towards a solution to stop the smoke.

For the OLB, this step also seems to be a solution. OLB spokesperson Charlemagne told, “The landfill fire is not yet seen as a crisis or disaster. Therefore, the acting governor is not the official point of contact for the fire. Every organization on Bonaire is still responsible for its own tasks.”

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