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Concern over oil spill clean-up Petrotrin using banned substance

Friday, January 10, 2014

Petrotrin has been using a banned substance to clean up the oil spill in the southwestern peninsular. Several online articles raised concern about the use of the dispersant Corexit 9500. Corexit 9500 was used for the first two days of clean-up operations according to manager of Health, Safety and the Environment for Petrotrin, Shyam Dyal. Despite the fact that it was used in the beginning, he described the substance as “the last option.” Used to clean up the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Corexit was initially described as no more harmful than dishwashing liquid by BP representatives. According to Wikipedia, Corexit has been banned for use on oil spills in the UK since 1988. Sweden has also banned it. It is approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but this decision was called into question in 2013 after a report by the Government Accountability Project alleged "devastating long-term effects on human health and the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem" stemming from the use of Corexit.


Commenting on the effects of the oil spill on people, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said it would not cause long-lasting ill effects on health but only possible nausea and difficulty breathing at the time of exposure. “The most it will provoke is an irritating effect on the respiratory system. It can aggravate an asthma condition. Once you leave the area or the smell is gone you should be fine,” he added. He said the media may have focused on isolated incidents where individuals fell sick and given a misleading impression to the public that an exaggerated number of people were falling ill. “The amount of people who have been admitted for medical concerns is minimal. There hasn’t been a surge of people coming in for respiratory ailments,” he added.


Other local medical professionals were either unwilling or unable to weigh in on the effects of inhaling the fumes from the oil spill in La Brea. Over 20 professionals, from specialised fields that included oncology, physiology, bio-chemistry, endocrinology and otolaryngology, either referred the T&T Guardian to another doctor or suggested consulting a different kind of specialist. 
Some admitted they didn’t know what to advise, while others advised: “Look it up online.” Several articles by overseas media after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico focused on concerns raised by medical professionals about possible long-term respiratory illnesses among people affected by a spill. 



Food chain 

One potential problem is that toxins from the oil or dispersants could find their way into the food supply. Dyal said fisherfolk in the area were having difficulty selling their fish as customers were hesitant to purchase. They are now calling on the Government to conduct toxicity tests. In New Orleans, United States, during clean-up operations, a ban was placed on fishing until officials could determine whether the fish was safe for consumption. Minister of Food Production Devant Maharaj, when contacted by the T&T Guardian, said he saw no need for such an approach in T&T as there was no proof that anything was wrong with the marine life at this point. 


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