Home News Local news State Department Turns Up the Heat Over B.V.I. Trash Burning

State Department Turns Up the Heat Over B.V.I. Trash Burning


On the heels of yet another several days of air polluted by open burning at Tortola’s Pockwood Pond landfill, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials at the U.S. State Department formally asked the British Virgin Islands government to stop polluting St. John’s air with its open trash burning.

“Our friends in the British Virgin Islands must responsibly process their waste. It is unfair for the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands, specifically residents of St. John, to have their air quality diminished by the actions of a neighboring country,” Gov. John deJongh Jr. said in a press release announcing the formal request.

He said the B.V.I. government has an obligation not to jeopardize the health of St. John residents as well as people who live on Tortola.

It won’t come soon enough for St. John residents who live in Coral Bay, East End and other nearby areas. They have endured the burning smell for several years. At times, it’s so bad it’s as though the fire is on their doorstep. And it can be seen from many locations in the Coral Bay area.

“They don’t seem to have a clue as to what to burn and what not to burn,” East End resident Terry McKoy said.

He said that according to a story in the B.V.I. Platinum News that officials admitted burning plastic and construction waste. The story quotes Deputy Premier and Health Minister Dancia Penn as saying that “the garbage burned is basically household waste and construction waste – plastic, paper, wood and food waste. Items such as tires and old car batteries are removed from the waste system and not burned. All medical waste is incinerated and the plant does not burn chemical waste."

McKoy pointed out that construction waste contains pressure-treated lumber, which is highly toxic.

He and Coral Bay Community Council President Sharon Coldren both welcomed the involvement of the State Department in the ongoing issue.

“I’m delighted that the government is taking a strong and public position to highlight the importance of getting it resolved for the people of Tortola and Coral Bay,” Coldren said.

According to deJongh’s press release, State Department officials encouraged B.V.I. authorities to stockpile excess rubbish in a properly managed site on Tortola so as to make possible delayed incineration without open burning. They also proposed an alternative solution of setting up an interim solid waste disposal program until the new incinerator at Pockwood Pond is completed.

The communication between the two governments urges United Kingdom and B.V.I. officials to get the new 100-ton-per day incinerator plant operational by April. To achieve that goal, deJongh said they will have to designate the incinerator as a high-priority project, rather than postponing installation for several months as Gov. Boyd McCleary indicated in a November letter to EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck.

In that letter, McCleary said that the new incinerator plant arrived on Jan. 17, 2009 and was erected in February 2009. On July 21, 2010 the B.V.I. cabinet awarded two contracts for the mechanical, electrical and plumbing works required to complete the installation of the new unit. He said contracts were signed last month and work has commenced on site.

“The estimated completion time is six to nine months. Once the new plant is up and running the open burning of rubbish should no longer be necessary,” McCleary wrote to Enck.

Petrona Davies at the B.V.I.’s Ministry of Health did not return a phone call requesting comment. Recently, calls on the issue were directed to her.

On March 3, deJongh met with Enck at Government House on St. Croix to discuss the territory’s environmental issues and concerns, including complaints from St. John residents about open trash burning on Tortola.

At that meeting, the governor emphasized the importance of continuing to press the issue upon the B.V.I. government through diplomatic channels. In addition, at the request of the governor, EPA installed air quality monitors on St. John.

In her September 2010 letter to former B.V.I. Gov. David Pearey, Enck said that at a Nov. 13, 2009 meeting, officials from EPA and the Planning and Natural Resources Department were assured by high-ranking B.V.I. officials that the situation would be addressed through the adoption of a comprehensive, integrated solid waste management plan and the establishment of air monitoring in areas surrounding the solid waste facilities.

“The open burning of trash is a major source of particulate matter, dioxins, and other harmful air pollutants. Such pollutants have major public health impacts…. Therefore, I urge you to take immediate measures to stop the open burning of trash on the island of Tortola,” Enck wrote.

EPA officials at a Feb. 8 meeting raised concerns about open trash burning directly with Tony Bates, Head of the Caribbean and Bermuda Section of the UK Overseas Territories Directorate in London, deJongh said.

In the most recent communiqué, the State Department insists that the two governments communicate at least once a month about progress being made to solve the problem.

The American diplomats have also offered to cooperate with the B.V.I. government on either a local or Caribbean-wide solid waste management initiative—one that includes recycling and other environmentally sound practices.

In her letter to Pearey, Enck wrote that EPA recently launched a recycling partnership in the U.S. territory.

“I would be happy to discuss ways that we might work together to reduce and recycle solid waste in the Caribbean,” she wrote.


  1. harvey

    BVI- USVI, should be a friendly border, but is hostile. They have arrested, incarcerated and hugely excessively fined boaters for simple fishing violations. They have probably given numerous VI residents cancer from dioxins of which any dose no matter how small can cause lung cancer. BOYCOTT BVI. !!!.


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