Smoke from trash dump fire covers Panama’s capital

March 20, 2013

PANAMA CITY – A cloud of toxic smoke covered a large part of the Panamanian capital on Wednesday as a fire burned in the city’s largest trash dump.

“This gas emission is totally toxic. We must check the toxicity levels,” Health Vice Minister Serafín Sánchez said.

The gray cloud came after a fire broke out Tuesday in five hectares of Cerro Patacón dump – located 12 kilometers outside the city – which is “the repository of all the garbage of our capital city,” Sánchez added.

The dense cloud was slowly dissipating Wednesday morning, but caused irritation in many people according to an AFP reporter.

Health authorities urged surrounding populations to protect themselves by covering their faces with scarves and by keeping their houses closed.

Government officials suspended classes in all schools adjacent to the fire area as a preventive measure.

Health experts warned that besides immediate effects related to diseases such as asthma, bronchitis or allergies, the smoke, methane and carbon dioxide mixture releases dioxins that may be carcinogenic.

However Panama’s director of the National Civil Protection Service, Arturo Alvarado, called for calm and assured that “no toxicity” has been registered, and that “there is no reason to be alarmed.”

According to Alvarado, the carbon dioxide levels are normal as well as the quality of the oxygen at different points where they have been performing tests.

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