‘Dispersants may have triggered toxic fumes’

September 21, 2006

Panay News, Sept. 21, 2006

GUIMARAS – Some residents of Nueva Valencia town believe that dispersants used in the shoreline clean-up operations may have heightened the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and hydrogen sulfide in the atmosphere – leading some residents to get sick.

This accusations prevail despite the earlier pronouncements of Petron Corp.’s Health Safety and Environment Manager Carlos Tan that no chemical dispersants were used ashore.

Petron supervises shoreline clean-up operations while the Philippine Coast Guard is in charge of offshore clean-up.

Residents of Brgys. Tando and La Paz confirmed to Panay News that chemical dispersants were used in clean-up operations on shore.

On August 28, through an unnumbered memorandum, Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III revealed the high level of toxic fumes from bunker oil-stained shores. It had sickened 25 adults and four children, the memo added. Clean-up operations were immediately stopped in Brgys. Tando, Cabalagnan and La Paz.

An official in Brgy. La Paz who asked for anonymity said chemical dispersants supplied by Petron were being prepared on the shoreline while air tests were being conducted.

“That might have raised the toxicity level of the air test,” the official said.

The official said dispersants were used during the time when there was still plenty of bunker fuel sludge washed ashore.

The use of chemical dispersants was only stopped when doctors in the area warned of the harmful effects of the substance, which prompted Petron to remove the chemical dispersants in the area.

“We immediately reported it to Mayor (Diosdado Gonzaga),” the official added.
On September 3, Gonzaga ordered the confiscation of five power sprayers owned by Petron, and discontinued the spraying of liquid chemicals on the shores of the affected barangays in his municipality.

Aside from the power sprayers, Nueva Valencia cops also confiscated a reel of hosepipe, dishwashing liquids and two containers with liquid in it – believed to be chemical dispersants, too.

Dispersants sprayed in the coasts of affected areas and offshore cleanup is harmful when inhaled. When it gets in contact with the skin, it may have carcinogenic effect. It is also toxic to aquatic organisms and may cause long term adverse effect on the aquatic environment, and may cause lung damage if swallowed.

Repeated exposure may cause skin dryness or cracking. The dispersants also contain polyalkylene polyamine that may result to an allergic reaction, and is environmentally hazardous.

“The smell is terrible. Indi mapatay ang tawo sa bunker fuel…sa chemical dispersant sigurado mapatay gid ya,” Priscilla Galvan of Brgy. Tando told Panay News.

Galvan is the teacher in-charge of the Paaralan ng Buhay ng Tando. The school is approximately five to seven meters away from shore.

Galvan said that on August 15, four days after the country’s worst oil spill catastrophe occurred, Petron laid several drums of chemical dispersants. “The drums were opened nagasungaw kag tuman ka baho. Sakit sa dughan,” she recalled.

She said they were relieved of the stinking odor when Gonzaga ordered them to stop.

The Department of Health revealed that respiratory illnesses were the most common disease reported in Guimaras, followed by skin diseases and stomach illnesses.

A memorandum dated September 11, 2006, addressed to DOH Secretary Francisco Duque, showed that 789 residents in Nueva Valencia and Sibunag towns were examined by the DOH-University of the Philippines-National Poison Management and Control Center on September 4 to 7.

The report showed that toxins remain present in the villages worst hit by the oil spill. Based on urine and blood samples analyzed, two of the five residents of Brgy. Tando were positive for sulfhemoglobin and ethemoglobin, with one having elevated methemoglobin.

The samples, taken on September 5 to 6 in Sitio Bagatnan in Panobolon, showed elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide when compared to the tolerable limit set by the United States Protection Agency Preliminary Remediation Goal.

Also, high levels of hydrogen sulfide and other toxic substances were evident in Sitio Naoway in Brgy. San Isidro, Sibunag.

Aromatic hydrocarbons were present in drinking water, soil and crab samples in the villages of Tando, Lapaz and Cabalagnan.


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