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Magħtab fire: Minister's words 'provide no comfort,' says PN

Have we not learnt anything from the Sant'Antnin fire? - Adrian Delia

Photo: Jonathan Borg

Photo: Jonathan Borg

Updated 6.45pm - Added ministry reaction

The Opposition is “seriously concerned” about any health hazard created by the major fire that broke out at the Wasteserv plant in Magħtab early on Friday.

“This is the second such incident in a bit more than a year. While we are grateful that no one got injured, the Environment Minister’s comments provide no comfort,” PN leader said at a conference off Magħtab.

Read: Warnings as major fire breaks out at Magħtab waste facility

Earlier, Minister Jose Herrera said the Environment Resources Authority was expected to say whether there were toxins and any health hazard as a result of the blaze.

Dr Delia said the incident was the result of bad governance of waste recycling.

“While it is not yet time to reach any conclusions, it is the time to ask questions: what caused the fire and were there any practices in place that could have prevented it,” he asked.

Photo: Jonathan BorgPhoto: Jonathan Borg

The PN leader expressed solidarity with the residents, referring to recent news that pollution in Malta continued to be among the worst in Europe, with the island having the fourth highest levels of particles in the air.

Dr Delia noted that Friday’s fire at Magħtab could have consequences on people’s health and possibly also the groundwater table.

He also referred to the inquiry about the fierce fire that in May of last year destroyed a large part of the Sant' Antnin recycling plant in Marsascala.

“Why haven’t we been informed about the conclusions of that inquiry? Have we not learnt anything from it,” he asked.

Meanwhile, Partit Demokratiku leader Anthony Buttigieg commended the fire fighters’ “swift response” but insisted that it was about time the authorities “sat down and worked out a faster and more efficient warning system for the public”.

Alternattiva Demokratika chair Carmel Cacopardo said that the current waste policy, which favoured incineration, increased the possibility of such accidents.

“The two incidents at Magħtab and Sant’ Antnin... have caused considerable damage, in particular due to the toxicity of the released fumes. The authorities are urged to come to their senses the soonest.”

The Environment and Resources Authority said it would be commissioning a study on the dioxin and furan levels in the soil, noting that its officers would try to inspect the site once it was safe to do so.

"These persistent organic pollutants will be tested for because they are usually present when plastic burns at a low temperature," he said.

International experts will also be engaged by ERA to sample and analyse the soil from different locations affected by the fallout from the plume.

Additional information in the coming days when the analyses and investigations have been concluded, the authority said.

'Amateur politician' - PL

The Labour Party dismissed Dr Delia's comments as "amateur" and "opportunistic", saying that the PN leader had rushed to hold a press conference about the fire without even knowing what Wasteserv officials had said about the incident. 

Dr Delia's "rushed" declarations, the PL said, were intended to placate "Simon Busuttil's clique" within the PN.

'Sant' Antnin inquiry yet to be concluded'

Dr Delia's press conference also prompted a reaction from the Environment Ministry, which noted that the PN leader had criticised current waste management processes without putting forward a single proposal.

The PN had also refused to sit on a technical committee tasked with assessing Malta's waste-to-energy options, it added. 

The ministry said that while Wasteserv had completed its own internal investigation into the fire at its Sant' Antnin plant, a magisterial inquiry had yet to be concluded. 

Hazardous waste, the ministry emphasised, was exported immediately and not stored at Magħtab. 

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