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White dust déjà vu - Dr Harry Vassallo

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  • Michael Briguglio
    White dust déjà vu www.timesofmalta.com 01/08/02 Dr Harry Vassallo Chairperson, Alternattiva Demokratika - The Green Party
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2002
      White dust d�j� vu www.timesofmalta.com 01/08/02

      Dr Harry Vassallo

      Chairperson, Alternattiva Demokratika - The Green Party www.alternattiva.org.mt

      Forty years ago or so, Mabel Strickland conducted the prototype of all
      environmental campaigns to rid Lija of the plague of white dust that
      regularly spewed out of a factory blanketing trees, houses and roads. The
      memory remains with a few of us, the factory with all of us, more so with
      Lija residents.

      A relative of mine was a labour safety officer at the time and I quizzed
      him on the matter. His reply was that it would be possible to insist on
      silage of all powdery materials, the collection of dust raised during
      production and the regular hosing down of the factory area. The snag was
      that the expense to install the equipment would probably send the
      business bankrupt and put workers out of a job.

      It was that era's priority ranking that made nothing happen. Were we
      really so poor that we couldn't afford to be healthy? If it was true
      then, is it still true today? What has this false economy cost us?

      When a design was commissioned for mechanical saws for stone, a dust
      collection feature was included. The saw has been with us for nearly two
      decades, the dust collection feature has been treated as a luxury option.
      Most stone masons opt out. Nobody in authority has had the sense, the
      energy, the simple decency to insist on making dust collection mandatory.
      It would cost the government nothing. Enforcement would be child's play:
      look for dust clouds that look like a house on fire.

      Fitting water or electricity conduit in walls usually means that all the
      doors and windows must be opened wide and special prayers for strong
      winds made by all the neighbourhood. Cutting conduit trenches using the
      ubiquitous chaser means that visibility in the room is reduced to zero
      while white dust clouds billow out over street and home. Most of us have
      no idea that equipment is now available to manage the job without the
      mess. Carbide-tipped nibblers can chip out the trenches without all the
      fuss. They cost considerably more than a chaser. Contractors won't make
      the investment unless they have too.

      A stand of trees at Ta' Pennellu, Mellieha looks like something out of a
      Christmas card. It's snowing in July in Malta. Dust crossing the country
      road reduces visibilty to zero. It sticks to the trees reducing their
      ability to survive in the harsh rocky upland. It also blows right across
      the sunbleached country entering homes, workplaces and everybody's
      nostrils in ever finer doses. It probably reduces our ability to live
      better and longer increasing the incidence of asthma attacks which take a
      heavy toll on victims. Brought to book the authorities would pass the
      buck until we're dizzy. And do nothing at all.

      The strong winds that kept sailors ashore in the past few days created an
      amazing spectacle at the Naxxar end of the tal-Balal road. Dust from an
      unmade side road created an incongruous Alaskan blizzard scene. Drivers
      wound up their windows and shot past worrying about the sand blasting of
      their precious status symbols.

      People in l-Iklin may have shrugged and just blamed the wind. They'd
      never guess that a road had just taken flight just upwind of them and
      hurled itself through every crack it could find in their windows.

      Rabat residents complain about the dust from the ex-Pitkali square. It
      doesn't take a hurricane to dustclouds there. Cars parked on the loose
      gravel grind away at the mess underfoot creating an endless supply that
      wafts into people's homes on the lightest of breezes. The council blames
      the government and the government points at the museums department which
      hopes some day to excavate the underlying archaeological site. It hasn't
      happened for decades. The dust rises every day. Now that we're safely in
      the third millennium, our failure to find a solution to accommodate all
      interests is an adminstrative humiliation.

      A building site in Sliema has been brought to the notice of the local
      council which pleads impotence to enforce. The parliamentary sectretary
      waffles about naughty contractors who disregard permit conditions.
      Tourists get a bonus Saharan dust storm to take away with their souvenirs
      of Malta. Residents get mad but remain weighed down by the apparent
      impossibility to change things.

      In most places, building sites are a temporary nuisance which neighbours
      just have to bear. In Sliema, it's a way of life. Despite the urban
      conservation area status of most of the locality, buildings are
      constantly being demolished. In three days, an art nouveau house in Amery
      Street became a hole in the ground. The only thing being conserved is
      Sliema's eternal building site status and its potential for Saharan dust

      Most residents have acquired an abiding contempt for authority. They
      resent being left to their own devices to combat the sudden assault on
      their quality of life.

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