The Malta Independent 24 June 2018, Sunday

Marsascala resident warned CPD, PM, Busuttil of safety issues weeks before Sant Antnin fire

Helena Grech Sunday, 14 January 2018, 08:45 Last update: about 6 months ago

An irate resident had warned the Civil Protection Department (CPD), the Prime Minister, the then Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, the then Partit Demokratiku leader Marlene Farrugia and Alternattiva Demokratika leader Arnold Cassola of safety issues at the Sant Antnin recycling plant just weeks before a massive fire erupted on 22 May last year.

The Malta Independent on Sunday was shown emails sent to all the relevant authorities and political parties from across the divide by Marsascala resident Anthony Camilleri, who lives just metres away from the recycling plant. Camilleri’s emails throughout May were ignored by some of the recipients, while others gave reassurances that precautions were being taken despite the massive fire breaking out just weeks later. A health warning was issued by the Health Department cautioning nearby residents not to open their windows or doors and to go outside, should any of the black smoke emanating from the fire enter their homes.

At the time, Malta was going through a particularly contentious election campaign culminating in the 3 June snap election. This was not the first time, however, that Camilleri alerted the authorities and parties from both sides of the divide about issues relating to the recycling plant, with email correspondence dating back to 2010.

What started the sending of the emails was what Camilleri described as an unbearable stench coming from the plant meaning that, especially in summer, he was unable to open a window in his residence – while the stench also prevented him and his family from sleeping at night. Throughout this saga, issues of safety began to be highlighted, such as the processing of recycling flammable material stored next to a gas-producing and storage facility.

Of all the politicians informed of the issues, Camilleri acknowledges that it was only Cassola who took the time to visit his residence and discuss the issue in person.

When he raised his concern with WasteServ CEO Tonio Montebello, he was told that the gas producing and storage facility he spoke of does not actually store biogas, and that this is extracted immediately.

Camilleri takes issue with this claim, stressing that the mere presence of a container holding gas, even for a brief moment, in proximity to the processing of recycling material is unacceptable in a plant that employs so many people and is situated so close to a cluster of residences.

On 1 May, Camilleri wrote to the CPD saying: “One of my main concerns regarding this plant is the lack of a buffer zone that, in my opinion, should have been incorporated in view of possible air contamination or fire incidents like the one in Hal-Far. This especially since Marsascala recycling flammable material is being processed and stored near a gas producing and storage facility within one plant.

“To add insult to injury, the Planning Authority has continued to issue planning permits for residential units within the area thereby increased perceived risk. Currently a proposal for a petrol station and a mega commercial project are under consideration literally within metres of this plant. A football pitch has been duly approved and (is) up for construction.”

Camilleri pleaded for the CPD to carry out an investigation into these concerns. In his email to Muscat, Busuttil, Cassola and Farrugia, he referred to his “concerns on the quality of the environmental studies that were being carried out; health and safety issues; the prospective plant’s impact and the selection process itself in view of the purportedly other sites being considered”.

He wrote: “In these last seven years, I have engaged in a solitary dispute with various authorities regarding this plant in view of what I allegedly describe as toxic gases being emitted, noises, times of operation and possible safety concerns related to the processing of flammable recycling material next to gas producing and storage facilities.

“I cannot even count the number of times we had to close all apertures in our house, even in the middle of summer, having woken up at night unable to breathe and with our throats burning.

“Unfortunately, despite my efforts, I found support lacking and those who did assist I must say did so for his/her personal agenda which deflected attention from the real causes/solution. I must say that I am disheartened to see people from both sides of the parliament/parties who actively supported the plant’s location despite the validity of other sites well-distanced from residential areas.

“At times I was even derided, accused of being a liar or of threatening public officials because I persisted with my efforts in trying to protect myself, my family and our property.”

A month after the blaze took place, Camilleri wrote to the Prime Minister to highlight how “one month from the incident, the burnt material has not been removed and toxic fumes are still being emitted from the collapsed structure to the detriment of us residents.”

The Prime Minister wrote back to say that he was awaiting the results of the magisterial inquiry launched to investigate the fire.

Camilleri has been corresponding with various authorities and politicians from different administration to bring attention to the issue. When Prime Minister Muscat renewed calls to close the recycling plant during the May election this was extremely welcome news to the Camilleri family, but their joy quickly turned to despair when it was announced that a planning application on ODZ land is being contemplated for offices, a supermarket and a drive-thru. This development will be touching his property, with various reports claiming that the ODZ land is a disused quarry.

A visit to the quarry indicates that it makes up just half the site in question. The area is residential, with terraced houses surrounding three sides of the site. In his strongly worded email to Malta’s leaders, Camilleri said:

“Even the idea of having to discuss such a proposal side by side residential units on ODZ land is incredulous, let alone again experiencing the sensation that this is again a lost battle. I am even bewildered why this proposal is even being considered when there are at least two commercial sites in Marsascala in total disrepair, should not these be prioritised?”

While one should expect noise and inconvenience wherever they reside in Malta, with construction and excavation work rampant across the island, and the increase of development permits, Camilleri described himself as being at his wits end. He asked how he is supposed to enjoy his property, as is his right, with seven years of stench and noise, the occasional fire [albeit none reaching that of the 22 May] and now a commercial development on ODZ touching one side of his residence.

He stressed that both major political parties have seriously failed the residents who live near to the Sant Antnin recycling plant. 

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