Smoke from a fire in a garbage dump in Hidalgo has forced the closure of schools in two municipalities and allegedly triggered the onset of health problems for some local residents.
State environmental authorities made the decision Tuesday to suspend classes yesterday and today in all educational institutions from pre-schools to universities in Mineral de la Reforma, where the dump is located, and the adjoining municipality of Pachuca.
Schools are expected to reopen tomorrow, although authorities said the contingency measure will remain in place until further notice.
Last Saturday morning, personnel from the state’s Environment Secretariat shut down the waste disposal facility’s transfer station and the dump itself for failing to comply with environmental regulations. In the afternoon of the same day the fire broke out.
While its exact cause is still unknown, Mineral de la Reforma’s Civil Protection director told the broadcaster Televisa that he believed the fire had been deliberately set.
“Somebody definitely lit it . . . but in the end it will be the relevant authorities and the experts who determine what happened,” Elías Corona said.
The density of the smoke clouds has been worst in the mornings due to thermal inversion, Corona said, although later in the day strong winds have helped to disperse the contamination.
“In the mornings, the smell is very strong . . . it smells of plastic [and] trash, it’s very toxic,” said Alán Gómez, a local resident.
By last night, municipal authorities said that 85% of the blaze had been contained.
“Up to now the combat strategy has been water and soil, trucks are going in with soil to suffocate [the fire] . . .” Corona explained.
Authorities have also told residents in the two affected municipalities to avoid outdoor activities and the exposure of food and water to the smoke. But according to a local lawyer, the contamination is already causing a range of illnesses.
“There are minor cases such as rhinitis, conjunctivitis, coughing [and] respiratory problems but there are also people who have asthma and pregnant women who are receiving special treatment because they’ve been affected by the fire. What’s occurred isn’t a minor event,” Eduardo Medecigo Rubio said.
The lawyer has started a campaign on social media, encouraging people who have suffered health issues to file a criminal complaint with authorities.
Medecigo also called on the state Secretariat of the Environment to inform residents what contaminants they are breathing in, adding that Greenpeace had warned that they are highly toxic.
Independent of the lawyer’s campaign, a group of 60 residents from affected neighborhoods have already filed a criminal complaint with the state Attorney General’s office, and they hope that by tomorrow a further 300 people will support it.