Sahara dust and smoke trigger health warnings

Dust in your face! Al­so your nose, mouth and lungs. But that’s the pe­ri­od which T&T is in, un­der siege from Sa­hara dust plus smoke from bush fires caused by the long dry sea­son.

“The Sa­hara dust will be with us un­til about Wednes­day, but it’s nor­mal for this time of year,” me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal of­fi­cer Bag­wan­deen Ram­datt said yes­ter­day.

The Met of­fice yes­ter­day chart­ed a dust haze in­dex of 32 de­grees C for Trinidad and 31 de­grees C for To­ba­go.

Ram­datt ex­plained that the dust from the Sa­hara desert “ trav­els on low-lev­el trade winds across the ocean reach­ing the Caribbean and some­times even Cen­tral Amer­i­ca. The dust wall can be thick­er or thin­ner de­pend­ing on wind speed. If the speed is strong, the haze will be thin­ner.

“Al­so, if winds are strong, it moves out of an area faster but if winds are mod­er­ate, it re­mains in the area—as with Trinidad and To­ba­go—a lit­tle longer. We had the ex­pe­ri­ence last year and it’s oc­cur­ring again, sim­i­lar­ly thick like last year when wind speed was al­so very low and the haze was thick then al­so”

Ram­datt said the dust has be­come an an­nu­al re­cur­ring fea­ture. How­ev­er, apart from dust clog­ging the at­mos­phere and re­duc­ing vis­i­bil­i­ty, he said the over­all sit­u­a­tion has been com­pound­ed by smoke from bush fires around the coun­try. San Fer­nan­do Hill was al­most whol­ly ob­scured by haze and smoke on Sat­ur­day.

In view of the sit­u­a­tion, the Met Of­fice is­sued an ad­vi­so­ry to peo­ple suf­fer­ing from res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­eases.

Health Min­is­ter Ter­rence Deyals­ingh al­so told the T&T Guardian: “With the ad­vent of the Sa­hara dust, every­one who suf­fers from res­pi­ra­to­ry is­sues—from al­ler­gies, asth­ma, bron­chi­tis, COPD, si­nus prob­lems—needs to take spe­cial pre­cau­tions, es­pe­cial­ly when they’re out­side.”

COPD, chron­ic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease, is a com­mon lung dis­ease which makes it hard to breathe. It in­volves chron­ic bron­chi­tis, with long-term cough with mu­cus and em­phy­se­ma, which caus­es dam­age to the lungs over time.

Deyals­ingh added: “ With this dust, peo­ple should vis­it their pri­ma­ry health care source reg­u­lar­ly, es­pe­cial­ly if dis­play­ing first signs of wheez­ing, cough­ing, run­ny nose, itchy eyes and get prop­er med­ica­tions so it doesn’t es­ca­late in­to some­thing else.”

Lo­cal health fa­cil­i­ties will con­tin­ue ex­pand­ing ahead, he said. Deyals­ingh added that Cab­i­net has just ap­proved the bud­get for con­struc­tion of the new San­gre Grande hos­pi­tal at about $900 mil­lion. It’s be­ing built by Vamed, the same Aus­tri­an com­pa­ny build­ing the Point Fortin hos­pi­tal.

Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Min­is­ter Kaz­im Ho­sein said his min­istry and the Agri­cul­ture Min­istry are deal­ing with bush fires.

“But peo­ple can play their part al­so. We all know what the dry sea­son brings with it so don’t start fires to clear land­scapes and don’t throw cig­a­rette butts out the car win­dow,” he said.

- by Gail Alexander. Photo by Nicole Drayton.

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