Environmental Health and Public Events: Vincentian Perspectives

By Theophilus Franklyn, Environmental Health Officer

Carnival festivities, motorsports, private beach and fete parties are just some events where patrons have a fantastic time.

But when the music shuts off and the bright lights go out….the surrounding is left in less than fun state.

Whether these events are well attended or target a small audience, human behavior impacts the environment and sometimes these impacts are adversely irreversible.

 This paper will therefore discuss dynamics of these recreational/social events such as noise, liquid and solid waste, crowding, disease outbreaks and food safety issues.

It will also review preventative measures that can be adapted to minimize or mitigate impacts.

Noise pollution can be classified as a major disruption of peace and tranquility in particularly residential areas.

Some may find it difficult to effectively function in excessive noise as their focus and sleep patterns  may be disrupted.

Furthermore, some studies have shown that excessive noise can trigger heart attacks and lead to permanent hearing loss. There have been instances where major events in popular residential areas such as in the Calliaqua and Villa vicinities, had to be shut down because of the excessive noise.

Additionally, liquid and solid waste pollution significantly hinders the physical environment and as a result can directly affect human health. Solid wastes, specifically when improperly disposed of – when it piles up can attract pests such as flies, rats and cockroaches.

Most of the refuse comes from improperly disposed of plastics such as cups, food containers as well as props and decorations used at these events.

Spilled foods and drinks also contributes to the waste and what attracts pests, can eventually lead to diseases such as leptospirosis, cholera, typhoid fever and dengue fever being transmitted.

Along water ways, sanitation plays a vital role at outdoor events as liquid waste in the form of human feces can cause fecal contamination.  For example, venues which are in close proximity to rivers, streams and seas usually rely on portable toilets to facilitate the large crowds as indoor plumbing are usually not nearby.

These toilets are known for their long lines and some patrons maybe impatient and resort to using the surroundings to relieve themselves. Moreover, if these toilets are not properly used and secured, they may become a hazard and facilitate the spread of germs and bacteria.

Crowding at events can cause damage to the soil when held on bare ground or an open field without any floor protection. Such example is the carnival Soca Monarch show held at the Victoria Park where a magnitude of over ( 10, 000) Ten thousand  patrons may trample of the grass and cause damage to the natural habitat.

Overcrowding can also lead to injury to persons as stampedes have been known to occur when persons get over excited or flee from fights that occasionally may occur.

The transmission of airborne disease is another factor that can cause havoc on the population.

Marketing and promotion can attract foreigners and locals alike and an outbreak of viruses such has tuberculosis and SARS – or an “imported disease” can affect the Vincentian health system.

The maintenance of food safety involves both the consumer and the health officials alike. Some food safety issues that have arisen over several decades in regard to mass gatherings and public events are sanitary issues with staff at bars, unregistered caterers and temperatures of food which can results in food borne diseases such as salmonella.

Food poisoning can occur when food isn’t prepared or stored at their correct temperature and at some events, food sanitations and hygiene are nonexistent.

The establishment of makeshift bars and tents makes it a challenge for the Environmental Health Department within the Public health Department to conduct surveillance as required under the laws of St .Vincent and the Grenadines.

Unfortunately, there have been vendors caught having no regard for health and safety – and they violate the terms of operation for example; by wearing acrylic nails and sleeveless tops.

Under the public health act of 1977, health officials are required to enter any premises at any time to carry out food safety audits at public events. There is a need to reinforce the rules and regulations regarding food safety which is another component which can be assisted through overseas funding.

In summary public and social events requires tremendous planning and execution. This planning will help mitigate problems such as contamination, noise disturbance and foodborne disease outbreaks. All stakeholders must work together to ensure that all have an injury free and healthy environment.