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Guimaras folk want Petron to dispose of oil spill garbage

August 26, 2006

WHILE foreign and local experts weigh the least risky options for retrieving the rest of Solar 1’s dangerous bunker oil cargo beneath the Guimaras Strait, villagers on the ground grapple with two hazards: disposing off the huge volume of highly polluting sludge they have scooped from areas hit by the oil slick; and dealing with the serious health problems arising from prolonged exposure to it.

Guimaras folk want the semistate-owned Petron Corp., the giant oil refiner that contracted Solar 1’s owner to ferry its cargo, to take care of the garbage that is now piling up on the coast, sludge in hundreds of drums and plants and dead animals coated with the black oil.

In an interview with ABS-CBN, Guimaras residents said they want Petron to send a barge to get the tons of oil-coated garbage, as they worry over its effects on their croplands, their water supplies and their health.

In one part of the coastline along Barangay Tando, endless rows of drums and plastic pails filled with sludge line the place.

Barangay captain Olivia Evangelista, told ABS-CBN they have no idea where they can bring the oil—prolonged exposure to the fumes of this can cause respiratory, skin and neurological ailments.

They have since retrieved 138 metric tons of sludge from the sea and the coast.

Guimaras governor Rahman Nava lamented that until now, Petron Corp. has not given them a clear idea of what it plans to do with the mess.

Petron’s health safety and environment manager Carlos Tan says it’s impossible to ferry the hazardous trash to other places, as no one would surely want to have them.

They are more focused on the option of using naturally occurring enzymes to treat the sludge, break it down and eventually neutralize its ill effects.

According to the National Poison Management & Control Center (NPMCC), the effects of bunker oil on the body are wide-ranging. Prolonged exposure can bring neurasthenia.

Dr. Lynn Panganiban of the NPMCC told ABS-CBN that neurasthenia develops after a person is exposed for long to hydrocarbons like bunker oil. Some symptoms: numbness, weakness, breathing difficulty and nausea.

In some instances, people get seizures and manifest “disturbances,” a DOH official had said earlier.

(Originally published in the Business Mirror , Aug. 25-26, 2006.)

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