An Island’s Health Burning at The Stake: UB’s Edge on Research
The New Providence Landfill has been a vexing issue, both for citizens who live close to “the dump” – as the facility is called – and those who live further away. Depending on wind direction, the acrid odor of burning debris can be smelled miles away. Schools have been forced to close and residents have been forced to live in conditions many suspect are toxic as a result of ongoing fires at the dump.
Chemist Dr. Danny Davis took a scientific approach to addressing the issue. Measurements of the concentration of airborne particulate matter from November 2016 to March 2017, collected at Aquinas College, provided the basis for a more definite and objective conversation based on conclusive data. That conversation took place at the University of The Bahamas Harry C. Moore Library and Information Centre Auditorium on Wednesday, 29 March 2017.
The timing of Dr. Davis’ research was propitious: the period during which he collected data involved what Minister of Environment and Housing the Hon. Kenred Dorsett has confirmed was the worst fire at the New Providence landfill.
In front of a captive audience, Dr. Davis shared his work at UB’s Research Edge Forum, a trailblazing initiative of the University. His research is titled: The March 5th 2017 Dump Fire: How Bad Was It?
He began by referencing two of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to contextualize his study. SDG 3 is to: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, whose target by 2030 is to: substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination. SDG 11 aims to: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable and targets by 2030 to: reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality, municipal and other waste management.
The instrument used in his research measures solid particulate matter such as black carbon, dust, pollen, spores, and soot from fire. He chose the Aquinas College campus as the site to house his instrument due to the school’s proximity to the dump and the impact it has had on the school community. Given the fact that the instrument is not waterproof, a structure similar to a birdhouse was built to protect the instrument from the elements. As a result of Aquinas being used to facilitate the collection of data, students were able to participate in the research initiative and get first-hand experience on the techniques and intricacies of conducting research.
Over the four-month period, there were different levels of smoke detected based on the instrument’s reading. For the most part, the readings were consistent and relatively low. Of note however was smoke that was generated from a cook-out grill that contributed to an elevation in the reading which was a clear indication that the instrument was working.
The question posed by the researcher was how bad was the March 5th dump fire? Based on the data collected, it was very bad. Dr. Davis emphasized the negative impact stating, “The data shows that the March 5th fire was 71 times worse than normal or 7020% worse. It was the worst dump fire based on the number of lost school days and the first evacuation order.”
Dr. Davis addressed a very controversial issue regarding the location of Aquinas College, Jubilee Gardens and other neighboring businesses and homes, challenging the audience to completely disregard the notion that they should not have been built where they are. He was unequivocal in his assertion saying, “Do not even entertain the thought that Aquinas should not have been built in its current location. The answer to what you see is that the dump should not be burning; the school is not in the wrong place and Jubilee Gardens is not in the wrong place – the dump should not be burning!”
As he concluded his presentation, Dr. Davis asked, “Are we at a tipping point?” He referenced the fact that in 1958 the British were forced to close Parliament because the stench from the Thames River was so bad that they could not work. While the likelihood of the wind blowing the stench of the dump fire toward Rawson Square is unlikely, what will cause real attention to be given to the dump situation; is the fact that school was closed for so many days and residents were forced to evacuate sufficient for us to reconsider how we approach this issue – will this be the tipping point?
Following Dr. Davis’ presentation, he invited the audience to ask questions and make comments. One of the most interesting comments came from a student of Aquinas College who highlighted the fact that there are not many research opportunities for high school students who want to enter the field and he wanted to bring to the audience’s attention the importance of providing students with avenues to do so. He stated, “it is important for youth to be actively engaged in research at the high school level given the fact that many of my global counterparts have the opportunity to engage in research prior to attending university.”
Another question came from a resident of Jubilee Gardens. Her concern related to the involvement of the Ministry of Environmental Health as residents have still not been given the all clear to officially return to their homes. Both Dr. Davis and Dr. Carlton Watson, Dean, Pure & Applied Science echoed the sentiments that the role of the university is to inform citizens through research. Dr. Watson noted, “This is an excellent example of the role of the institution in terms of national development and the kind of research that touches everyone”. They both spoke to the need for greater collaboration, information sharing for research and for us to eliminate the silos that tend to exist within our country between national entities.
Dr. Danny Davis has a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada and a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Chemistry from Acadia University. Dr. Davis started his career in the pharmaceutical industry in 1984 and spent most of his formative working years as a chemist in the pharmaceutical industry in Grand Bahama. By the time he left industry for academia he had advanced to the position of head of the Analytical Chemistry group and Project Leader for Technology Transfer.
His interest is in air quality lead to student research projects in various pollution and air quality related topics. Such as:
- An Investigation of the Presence of Lead in New Providence Soil (Spring 2016)
- An Investigation of Indoor Air Quality at Marjorie Davis Institute For Special Education (Spring 2015)
- Contributions of Vehicular Emissions to Air Pollution in New Providence (Spring 2015)
- Perceptions of Outdoor Air Quality in New Providence (Spring 2015)
Dr. Davis joined the University of The Bahamas in 2002 and taught chemistry for a few years before moving to administration. Dr. Davis served as Registrar during which time he spearheaded to move to online registration, online grade submission among other initiatives. He is currently serving as Project Manager in the office of Institutional Strengthening and Accreditation with responsibility for leading the accreditation and quality initiative at The University. When given a chance he teaches organic chemistry and sometimes lower level chemistry courses for the Chemistry Department at UB.