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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Landfill fires sparked by high temperatures leave residents exasperated

UAQ Municipality will soon begin the process of closing the rubbish site close to Mistral Villas 

Residents at a housing development are having their homes invaded by smoke and bad smells from a nearby dump. 
Residents at a housing development are having their homes invaded by smoke and bad smells from a nearby dump. 

Fumes coming from nearby landfill is causing environmental and health concerns among residents of a quiet Umm Al Quwain community.

Homeowners at the Mistral Villas development first complained about fumes and smells from an oil-recycling plant in 2015 and were finally given some relief when the authorities closed the site.

But in 2016 they faced another issue, with odours coming from a nearby dump that deals with municipality, agricultural and industrial waste three kilometres away from the community.

Now residents of the development, built by Emaar Properties, are saying that waste is still burnt at the landfill during the early morning hours. Black smoke blows through the community, causing toxic smells and a hazy atmosphere.

They said they have complained to the UAQ Municipality and Emaar Properties, but no solutions have been provided.

One resident said Emaar Properties told him that, although they were aware of the issue, they could not provide a solution because it did not come under their remit.

“Emaar can’t do anything about the issue because it is taking place outside their development – this is what they have told us,” said C D, 38, a Briton who bought a villa at the community five years ago.

A landfill site where residents of Mistral Villas say waste-burning activities have been happening, causing an acrid smell to waft into their community. Chris Whiteoak / The National
A major blaze took place at the landfill site on August 2. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The municipality has also denied that there was any burning of waste on the site.

C D said more than 30 residents were now complaining about the smell of smoke and chemicals.

“Some nights you smell a sewage odour, while other nights it’s a chemical smell,” he said. “It’s driven by the wind direction, so if the wind is kind it sends it away from the community. In the evening, the wind blows towards the community.”

C D said he and his wife had faced similar issues since they first moved to the community.

“Every time we face a new challenge it makes us concerned about our health and environment,” he said. “The municipality said they closed the sewage area and to some extent I believe that, because I haven’t seen any sewage tankers going through there for months.

“But what we know is they are still burning stuff during the night. What they are burning, I don’t know.”

He said the latest incident he is aware of took place on August 2, when he noticed a huge fire at the landfill.

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“I went directly to the civil defence building and told them about the fire,” he said. “They said they went to inspect the site and the workers said they set the fire themselves and that firefighters were not allowed to extinguish it.

C D said the huge fire lasted for about five days.

“Thick smoke was blowing over the community throughout the night and came into houses. People were waking up in the middle of the night thinking their house was on fire. It was unbelievable.”

Another resident said she had moved to the villas two years ago and were not made aware of the issue at the time.

“We moved from Dubai to enjoy an affordable community lifestyle. [The problem] was a bit of a surprise,” said Sharon Embleton, from South Africa.

She said the situation is bringing up public health concerns on top of the environmental impact.

“The acrid smell has been blowing around during the evening until about 6am every day for the past two weeks. It smells toxic, and is clearly coming from burning some kind of waste,” she said.

“Whatever is being done to solve the problem, it’s not being done properly. If the issue continues, I will consider moving back to Dubai,” Ms Embleton said.

The landfill site in Umm Al Quwain. Chris Whiteoak / The National
The landfill site in Umm Al Quwain. Chris Whiteoak / The National

According to statistics released by the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority, UAQ generated about 200,000 tonnes of waste in 2016, 62 per cent of which was collected by the municipality and the rest by private companies.

UAQ municipality said high temperatures caused the fire at the landfill.

“Household waste collected by the municipality can contain substances that can release methane and other gases that might cause a fire if exposed to high temperatures,” said Yousef Al Mansouri, manager of support services at the municipality.

“A new landfill has been established at Al Medfaq, between UAQ and Ras Al Khaimah, and it will be operating soon. The closure of the current site will take about two years to be completed.”

In 2016, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment said that work on the first phase of a Dh200 million new landfill site had begun and was expected to be completed last year. It is ready and waiting to become operational.

Last year the ministry allocated nearly Dh12 million to rehabilitate the landfill area and prevent toxic substances seeping into the ground.

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