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Opinion

Dangerous health risks at Popua landfill are obvious

Washington, USA

I cannot over emphasize the potential gravity of development in and around the reclaimed Popua landfill. I recommended this area not be used for a landfill from its onset in the 1980's. I can't say how extremely disturbed I was to see the area around it now being developed as a children's park that I was told was being funded as a Chinese gift.

I was further exasperated to see the channel excavated to the lagoon. These actions without well-considered and detailed engineering and public health evaluations were extremely unfortunate. During my visit early this year, on her inquiry, I shared my concerns with 'Ana 'Akauola  [Ministry of Health] on this and a number of other public health issues, [and] she then with the Director of Health.

I have been involved with managing some of the largest toxic and hazardous waste cleanups in the USA where cleanup levels of toxic and hazardous substances were substantially driven by carcinogenic risk assessments. I am extremely aware of the health risks the Popua landfill could potentially pose. Notwithstanding Mary Fonua's well-considered and insightful comments [Matangi Tonga June 6: Questions raised as secretive Va'epopua development ignores lagoon pollution warnings], especially those regarding zinc and lead, I think the health issues could be far more dangerous, especially to children.

From my near 40-years involved with public health in Tonga in one way or another, it appears to me that the incidence of cancer in Tonga has greatly increased, including among a number of close relatives in my wife's immediate family. I am further convinced that this could well be because of increased and increasing exposure to hazardous chemicals, of which there are many in Tonga. Most are entirely uncontrolled, unmeasured, and in the case of cancer and other diseases, appear often not medically diagnosed for. Indeed, Tonga does not currently have the capability to quantify these issues.

It should be abundantly obvious that of the many container loads of imports of all kinds comes across Queen Salote Wharf every week, practically none ever leaves the island. It is my considered opinion for a number of technical reasons that Tongatapu, in particular, has well exceeded its absorptive capacity for many of these foreign materials. This will have serious consequences if it has not already.

The above is so obvious. Isn't anyone looking???

Richard Stoll
Environmental engineer

My experience in Tonga: former engineer for the Tonga Water Board; World Health Organization in charge of the National Sanitation Project; various consultancies in Tonga; Project manager for the reconstruction of the Nuku'alofa central business district; assisted my brother-in-law, Paul Karalus in coordinating both Japanese and Chinese aid projects.  I know the Popua area very well. I married a Tongan.  Proficient in the Tongan language.  I have graduate degrees in environmental engineering and aquatic biology.