Relatives of a five-year-old boy who fell into a river contaminated with crude oil are calling on Petrotrin to take responsibility for the child's accident.
La Brea residents say they have reached their limit with “restaurant food” and are desperately craving their own home-cooked meals. They have not been able to cook for a month because of the oil spill which began washing ashore at Coffee Beach on December 17.
Since the oil spill, Petrotrin has banned the use of open flames in the Coffee Beach area for safety reasons, which meant cooking was out of the question. The state-run oil company has since been providing residents with breakfast, lunch and dinner until clearance is given to resume cooking. The residents could not cook their Christmas and New Year’s Day meals because of the ban. On Tuesday, as the oil spill entered its 28th day, 76-year-old Errol Lee, of Coffee Beach, La Brea, admitted that he was missing his own cooking.
“Yes, they cooking and bringing food for we, but I missing my home cook food,” he said as he shook his head. Mother of one Terrilisa Montano, 21, shared Lee’s sentiments. “I fed up, yes,” she said. Montano said while the food that residents are getting is good, she is “uncomfortable” with the meals. “Half the things they bringing I doh eat. They bringing red beans— I doh eat that, blackeye beans—I doh eat that.
“When you go to collect, they ask you what you want. What could I want when they don’t have what I eat? I fed up of this whole situation.” On Monday, Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali said the company had not lifted its ban on cooking at Coffee Beach and was awaiting clearance from the relevant authorities to ensure it was safe.
“We are very cautious and very careful in taking some of these decisions (like resumption of cooking) when they impact on safety, life safety. There are certain regulatory agencies we are consulting before we make that announcement,” Hassanali explained. On Tuesday, a team of Environmental Management Authority (EMA) compliance officers visited Coffee Beach to do air-quality testing.
Lee said he was pleased with the progress of the clean-up, but would only be fully satisfied when he is allowed to resume his daily sea baths. “Lord, I does miss my sea baths. I used to take my sea bath any time of the day or night. Here is the safest beach in the whole of Trinidad. It have no current and have no up and down in the water—it is pure level, hard sand,” Lee said. “I feel is the sea that keeping me alive. I am 76 years old and I doh get up and run. I does swim out to the jetty and back. That is my exercise.”
Petrotrin’s use of the toxic dispersant Corexit 9500 during the initial days of the oil spill has also left Coffee Beach residents concerned about the residual health effects from their exposure to the chemical. Corexit 9500, which was used in the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, has been found to have cancer-causing components when mixed with oil. However, the dispersant is listed on the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan as an approved dispersant for oil spill clean-up.
On Tuesday, La Brea mother of one Tenesha Modeste, 27, said she is worried not only for her five-year-old son Israel, but the residents of Coffee Beach. “They should do blood tests, check everyone in here for any adverse effects,” she said.
“I find it was unsafe for them to use that (Corexit). They should have called everybody for a meeting and tell us what it was about. I am not worried about my child and me, I am worried about everybody here. It is most important that they do tests not only now, but regular blood tests to check up on residents.” Montano added that the medical check ups now being offered by Petrotrin should not cease after a month, but should continue for residents and children at least throughout the year.
Fisherman Anthony Cyril, 59, and boat engine repairman, Harold Bissessar, 75, agreed Petrotrin should be monitoring the health of residents. “Since this oil spill, residents suffering with a persistent dry cough and sore throat. The little children have vomiting and diarrhoea,” he lamented. Bissessar said they were not given medication, but were checked out by Petrotrin medical staff stationed at Coffee Beach and at the La Brea Community Centre.
He jokingly said for old seamen like him, drinking some puncheon rum would probably cut the “fumes off the chest” in no time.