Banking on Risk
A small portion of Roatan residents spend their lives picking through our garbage. But do they know the dangers

February 1st, 2010
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private]

Hundred if not thousands of bottles and other materials are scourged every single day.

Hundred if not thousands of bottles and other materials are scourged every single day.

The Roatan Municipal Dump has served the island’s citizens for some time now as a place where the island’s citizens can dispose of their waste with virtually no questions asked, and little, if any, restrictions. This place seems to take on a life all its own and the never-ending loads resemble the green mountainous area that surrounds it. The constantly bulging piles of trash seem to grow more and more each day, breathing in and out as the sun sets down. They wait patiently, as the caravan of garbage trucks comes rushing down the uneven dirt road till a necessary but seemingly random destination is reached. The anticipation rises, wondering what treasure could possibly be hidden amongst the piles and piles of waste. Glass, plastic, metal, even electrical wiring is amongst the material sought after. This is nothing new. A handful of Roatan citizen’s toil day in and day out picking through our garbage. And with some effort and know-how the profits can be substantial, some reporting profits of around Lps. 8,000. However after hauling nearly six thousand pounds of plastic to San Pedro Sula many would ask if it is worth the effort. Especially with the potential health hazards associated from working in such a caustic environment.

In The Depths: Roatan residents spend their days immersed in the island’s waste.

In The Depths: Roatan residents spend their days immersed in the island’s waste.

Truly these citizens know little about the health impacts amassed when working in such an environment. And although the majority of those residents the BIV has spoken with deny any issues with their overall well-being as a direct impact from spending their days here, many are not able to recognize such risks in general. Especially for those who live a stone’s throw away from the materials we choose to throw away. These risks are numerous and may be further exasperated due to the lack of health care options in Roatan, as well as limited access to them. One serious risk for those working in close quarters of waste refuse is the presence of disease carrying insects and vermin. Mosquitos and flies coat this area and with the ever-present threat of malaria (the world’s 4th highest cause of death according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control 2005 World Health Report) the danger is real. A young girl living in close proximity to the Roatan dump reported to the BIV that she recently contracted the illness, but she denied any association with her living environment. While adults say they try to prevent those under 18 years of age from working in the dump, this cannot always be achieved. Many dumps or landfills in more developed regions bury and enclose refuse to isolate such seepage because another substantial threat to those working and living amongst the island’s waste is the contamination of water and the respective runoff into crops and fields, possibly affecting entire communities. Another concern is the constant exposure to inhaling the delicate yet constantly fuming methane gas which radiates from the decomposing garbage. And although little has been concluded about persistent exposure to this highly flammable gas, most officials concur that it is inherently unhealthy.

For now little can be done or said about these residents’ occupational decisions, and while many consider the work undignified, the truth is the work they fulfill makes up for much of our wasteful and irresponsible lifestyles. An unfortunate paradox at best. [/private]

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