WALTER ALIBEY & ROSEMARIE SANT
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One week after oil leak MP tours site
Labour Minister Errol Mc Leod and Petrotrin officials came under fire yesterday when they visited oil-stricken communities, a week after over 17,000 barrels of slop oil leaked from the company’s Pointe-a-Pierre refinery. The leak contaminated the Guaracara River and surrounding areas and residents have been experiencing respiratory problems, diarrhoea, vomiting, and bleeding since the rupture of Petrotrin’s MP6 tank on July 29.
They accused Mc Leod of turning his back on his people. Mc Leod is the MP for Pointe-a-Pierre and former president general of the Oilfields’ Workers Trade Union. Sylvia Lewis, who campaigned for Mc Leod, said it was disappointing that it took a week for him to visit the area. “You ungrateful. So long we suffering and now you come? “We cannot live in our houses. We cannot cook, we cannot breathe. We begging for relocation and you don’t care, so stop pretending,” she shouted at the dignitaries.
A pregnant woman said she was offered alternative lodging at a guest house in Plaisance Park by Petrotrin but had to return home because of the filthy conditions. “That place was a whorehouse. It stink. The bed and pillows dirty. I could not stay there,” she complained. Despite assurances from Petrotrin that the Guaracara River was almost clean, thick slops of black crude oil were seen floating on the river, which flows into the Gulf of Paria.
Accusing Petrotrin of trying to cover up the devastating impact of the leak, resident Cori Green said dispersants were used to sink the crude. “We are seeing dead caimans and dead fishes. When we wake up on mornings, the whole place stink with oil fumes,” Green complained.
A team was seen cleaning the blackened banks of the river behind a house owned by Carol Caddle. She spent two days at the Augustus Long Hospital and was then sent for further treatment at the San Fernando General Hospital yesterday. Caddle said she was fearful of the long-term effects of the spill.
McLeod: Petrotrin T&T’s lifeblood
Saying Petrotrin was the lifeblood of T&T, Mc Leod said he did not want the company to be closed down. “This is serious business and all kinds of questions will be raised as to who should be relocated. My approach is this: I learnt in the industry that you have accidents and before you point a finger, you investigate the cause,” Mc Leod said. He asked the residents to appoint five leaders to negotiate on their behalf with Petrotrin, saying it would take years for all of them to be relocated.
Asked by reporters why he took so long to visit, Mc Leod said, “I don’t have to address that, I am here now.” Asked why the first level of care is happening after a week, Mc Leod said, “I don’t think now is the time to ask difficult questions and to ask questions that are in my view and with respect, questions that are not relevant to the benefit of the people and to ensure the peace.
Asked about relocation, Mc Leod said, “This is something that has to happen over great planning and a period of time.” As to how long, Mc Leod added, “I can’t tell, I am not a town planner.” Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine, Petrotrin chairman Lindsay Gillette and president Khalid Hassanali were also on the tour.
Nine workers suspended
Nine Petrotrin employees, including two managers, have been suspended as an independent auditor looks into the cause of the slop oil leak at Tank MP6 in the refinery. This follows the temporary suspension of Petrotrin’s vice president of refining and marketing, Mado Bachan. Petrotrin said PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services had started investigations into the spill. Meanwhile, Hassanali said it will take at least another month for things to return to normal on the Guaracara River.
“It will be another four to five weeks of final work. We are moving machines and cleaning the banks and polishing. I think by today or tomorrow, discomfort in terms of oil and fumes will be greatly reduced,” Hassanali said. He added that despite contrary reports by the OWTU, the slop oil is almost gone from the river. However, this was not the case when the Guardian visited. Apart from thick crude floating in the river, pungent fumes pervaded the air, causing itchy eyes and a burning sensation in the chest.