(Trinidad Guardian) The habitat along the Vistabella River is once again under attack as oil stretches across several kilometres of water and the flanking mangroves.
San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello said on Saturday that he had contacted Energy and Energy Industries Minister Franklin Khan about the issue. Khan, in turn, has asked Petrotrin to begin searching for the source of the oil.
The contamination was reported to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), which said that it had received a report of the contamination around 10am on Saturday. The EMA’s Emergency Response and Investigations (ERI) Unit conducted an investigation to identify the source of the spill and it was identified as Petrotrin’s Mossetville Manifold, which is a buried high-pressure gas and oil line. So far, Petrotrin has not quantified the spillage.
The EMA said that up to Saturday evening, Petrotrin was engaged in clean-up operations and had shut off the line and deployed booms to ensure that oil did not reach the coast.
However, when a Guardian Media team walked along the river bank yesterday morning, several catfish were seen swimming away as the oil made its way into the Gulf of Paria. Crabs were already covered by the oil. Based on checks at different parts of the river, the oil spill was present between the San Fernando Bypass and the river mouth.
Resident Evelina Glasgow said she first realised the presence of the oil between 7pm and 8pm on Friday when she got a burning scent. By Saturday morning, it was even worse. “You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you’re only inhaling oil. It makes us sick and weak and it gives us headaches. My head has been hurting me since last night. We can’t cook or leave anything open. I find the authorities should come and clean it up now,” Glasgow said.
Another resident said oil in the river was not strange, as there was a company close by that dumps used products in the river. But Regrello said it appeared to be crude oil, which was concerning since residents fish in the river.
“What I was made to understand is that fishermen do come here and fish for tilapia and catfish. You know shark and bake is a popular delight around this time, so people come here and do their fishing and they are suppliers. I’m a bit taken aback by that,” Regrello said.
“The Public Health (Department) has to come and do an investigation here and see what is going on with this river on how sanitary it is in terms of eating.”