HARD TO BREATHE: Marva Reid protects herself with a cloth cover over her nose while her son Josiah wears a respirator while standing on the bank of the Guaracara River yesterday following an oil spill at the Petrotrin Refinery in Pointe-a-Pierre. The mother and son are residents of Mango Alley Silk Cotton Road, Marabella. –Photo: TrevOr Watson

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‘FIGHTING FOR AIR’

20 residents taken to hospital; 17,844 barrels of oil released in another Petrotrin oil spill

By Sue-Ann Wayow sue-ann.wayow@trinidadexpress.com

Marabella

Seven months after a major oil spill, more than 20 residents in Marabella had to be taken to hospital yesterday following another oil spill at Petrotrin’s Pointe-a-Pierre refinery.
Approximately 17,844 barrels of slop oil (a combination of oil, water and sediment) were released in the spill.
Tropical Plaza, a commercial complex and food mall, closed prematurely around midday as a safety precaution.
Marabella residents said they have experienced oil spills before, but this was the “worst ever”.
Some 300 residents were affected by the flow of oil along the Guaracara River, as they could not light their stoves or drink tap water. The residents are depending on Petrotrin to provide food and water.
Residents said when they first began to smell the oil it was “like fighting for air”.
Videsh Kalloo, street captain for residents along Silk Cotton Road, Battoo Avenue, said around 7 p.m. on Tuesday, residents began getting a faint scent of the oil and gas, and by 10 p.m. it was almost unbearable.
He said a resident who lived near the river informed him about the scent. He contacted Petrotrin and officials immediately arrived at the scene.
From 10 p.m. on Tuesday to 11 a.m. yesterday, some 20 people of varying ages were taken by ambulance belonging to Petrotrin to the company’s Augustus Long Hospital, Pointe-a-Pierre, for medical treatment.
He said although residents were affected badly, they were pleased with Petrotrin’s response.
Petrotrin’s president, Khalid Hassanali; Petrotrin’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr David Jackson, and other senior officials visited the area yesterday morning, offering assistance. The release stated Petrotrin’s health and safety officials were conducting air-quality monitoring.
Kalloo said the residents were awaiting word from Petrotrin before they continued with their daily routines.
He said if the situation worsened, Petrotrin had a muster point in place at the Guaracara Recreation Ground and the Manny Ramjohn Stadium.
Kalloo said: “Mr Hassanali, the president of Petrotrin, came and informed us that a tank of oil was leaking somewhere by the highway due to how old the refinery is as well as the metal wasn’t good enough and everything spilled into the river.
“They came and assured us this morning that everything was under control and he will work with the residents. He has been very supportive and we are very thankful.”
Apart from offering to clean the area and provide medical assistance and meals, Kalloo said Hassanali also promised to help the community by providing jobs to the many unemployed youths.
Cindy Tyson, a teacher at Innocent Hearts Learning Centre, said a doctor visited the centre and exa­mined the children who complained of feeling ill. An eight-year-old was taken to the hospital to be treated.
Tyson said Petrotrin officials told her to keep windows open and to contact Petrotrin if any child fell ill.
There are three day-care centres and two preschools in the area.
Another resident said her bedridden 80-year-old husband suffered throughout the night on Tuesday with breathing problems.
However, not all residents were pleased with Petrotrin’s response.
Rosemary Mitchell, who lives at Mango Alley Silk Cotton Road, said she slept with a wet towel over her nose on Tuesday night.
She complained Petrotrin was not doing enough to assist residents, and the distribution of water and other drinks was inadequate.
She said they were not properly informed about what caused the oil spill.
It was not the first time an oil spill occurred in the area and Petrotrin needed to put measures in place, she said.
Kalloo suggested Petrotrin maintain their tanks a little better and upgrade their system.
Petrotrin stated last evening its emergency response plan was activated and its team started containment and recovery efforts.
Booms were deployed within the refinery and in the vicinity of the Guaracara River, and vacuum trucks began recovery and most of the oil was contained within the refinery; operations are continuing, it stated.
Residents are advised to contact Petrotrin’s emergency hotline, 658-0235, between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.
After 4 p.m., calls can be directed to 658-4200, ext 2410.

The December spills

LAST December, more than 7,000 barrels of oil were released following a series of 11 oil spills along the southwestern peninsula. The spills began on December 18 along the Coffee, Carat Shed and Point Sable beaches in La Brea.
Residents spent a bleak Christmas, not being able to cook their favourite dishes. Some were employed by Petrotrin to clean up the area that was visited by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Christmas Eve.
The Government spent at least $50 million in clean-up operations, which included inviting foreign personnel to assist.
Vice-president for exploration and production Jamaludin Khan said the breakdown would have included $5 million in compensation to residents and fisherfolk in the affected communities along the southwestern peninsula, $20 million to international oil spill-response companies brought in to help with clean up, $12 million to $15 million to pay for soils rehabilitation, mangrove clean up and residual polishing, and a $20 million fine to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA).
For at least a month, residents depended on meals provided by Petrotrin, formed a committee and received medical help from Petrotrin medical personnel.
Petrotrin fired six employees for being negligent and careless.
The Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union had blamed Petrotrin for the spills, saying it was a lack of pro­per management that resulted in equipment not being maintained.
The union had called then for a firing of the entire Petrotrin board and an in-depth investigation into Petrotrin’s operations.
—Sue-Ann Wayow
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