White dust déjà vu - Dr Harry Vassallo
- 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
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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