Secondary contamination-A A +A
Friday, August 23, 2013
IT'S good that public awareness is high regarding the kind of damage the oil that leaked from the tanks of the sunken M/V St. Thomas Aquinas of 2GO Shipping has wrought on parts of Cebu’s ecosystem. The lessons learned from this experience will be valuable in terms of preparing us for similar incidents (God forbid!) in the future.
The awareness rose partly because the ruin the oil spill brought on both the fishermen and portions of the shoreline of Cordova town is being reported extensively by the media. This has sparked the volunteerism that we are seeing, from the cleanup to the contribution of materials for it.
Volunteerism is one thing; being organized and informed is another.
I could sense that efforts to battle the oil spill has become an each-to-his-own scheme, with so-called experts plugging the leak at the source (the sunken ship) or chasing the leaked oil at sea using booms and skimmers and volunteers doing crude shoreline cleanups.
Throughout all these, I don’t think an overall plan in battling the oil spill has been hatched; neither is a coordinating body overlooking the whole process. Considering the seriousness of the undertaking, this, I would say, is a big hole in the entire oil spill management effort.
Ipieca, or the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association, in its “Guidelines for Oil Spill Waste Minimization and Management” has noted a fundamental requirement in battling oil spills. “As soon as an incident occurs,” it said, “the right decisions are made and contingency plans are set in motion.”
In Cordova town, the enduring image is that of volunteers putting blackened waste into sacks. Where those sacks will go is a good question.
The point is that “oil and oiled debris” collected from contaminated sites become waste that, Ipieca stressed, “should be segregated, stored, treated, recycled or disposed of.” What is a concern in the entire effort is secondary contamination, meaning the “spread of oil via people, transport and equipment to otherwise unpolluted areas.”
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 has talked about the extent of the damage wrought by the oil spill—328 hectares of mangroves severely damaged in 12 barangays in Cordova town and Lapu-Lapu City. But I still have to hear its plan on how to minimize secondary contamination resulting from oil spill cleanup efforts.
Among Ipieca’s suggestions: designation of “clean” and “dirty” zones at the cleanup site; decontaminating personnel and equipment before leaving the site; lining and decontaminating all vehicles intended for waste transportation before leaving the site; and establishing a traffic circulation plan for vehicles.
That’s just at the cleanup site. Because much work is still to be done in areas where the oil and oiled debris are to be dumped for segregation, recycling and disposal. How these are done is an important consideration because of environmental and health concerns.
By the way, one interesting sidelight in the current efforts to battle the oil spill is the collection of hair (in the case of jail inmates) and used clothing (initiated by the Cebu City Government) to be used as boom to contain the oil spill.
But here’s a warning: care must be taken in the choice of materials for the purpose because these become waste materials when mixed with oil and have to be disposed of in special landfills or burned. That is why the suggestion is to choose materials that are superabsorbent and are preferably biodegradable (hair is not). For some, low-grade cotton is the better material.
My point is, battling the oil spill should not be haphazardly done or secondary contamination will only make the problem worse.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 23, 2013.