DOH: Air pollution in Iloilo oil spill site at critical level

Hazel P. Villa
The health secretary calls for the 'urgent relocation' of more than 1,000 families from Barangay Botongon in Estancia town

COVERED IN OIL. Logs and other pieces of wood covered along the shoreline of Barangay Botongon in Estancia town. Photo by Jonathan Jurilla, Typhoon Yolanda Story Hub Visayas

ILOILO, Philippines – The air in Barangay Botongon, where the force of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) led to an oil spill accident in Estancia town, has reached critical levels.

The health secretary, in a recent inspection of the site, said the oil spill had reached 16.9 parts per million, and recommended “urgent relocation” for the 4,444 individuals or 1,174 families living in the community.

Power Barge 103 of the National Power Corporation (Napocor) slammed into the shoreline during Typhoon Yolanda’s onslaught on November 8, destroying some houses and injuring some residents. (READ: In Estancia, Yolanda came with an oil spill)

As of November 21, when Health Secretary Enrique Ona visited the site, the Department of Health (DOH) and Napocor had yet to determine the volume of bunker fuel oil that spilled.

Estancia Mayor Rene Cordero said the oil spill may have already reached the neighboring town of Batad, about 10 kilometers (5.39957 nautical miles) away from Estancia. The slick has greatly affected the livelihood of people in the area – fishing.

Ona brought along Dr. Bessie Antonio, an oil spill toxicologist from the Poison Control Unit of East Avenue Medical Center, who also called for an “urgent relocation” of affected residents.

According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, “the current legal limit for this oily discharge is 15 parts of oil to one million parts of water (or 15 parts per million (ppm). A discharge of 15 ppm cannot be seen on the water, therefore if you can see an oil spill, it is an illegal discharge.”

“The first step of action is to control the spread of the leak and get in touch with health facilities. There must be daily monitoring. We still cannot assess how long this will last because we still have to check with the experts,” said Ona.

The DOH took random air and water samples as well as marine life that would be brought to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) for testing.

Naghahabol tayo ng oras. Mas mabilis na malinis, mas maganda (We are running after time. The faster we clean up, the better),” said Antonio.

She added that acute results from the oil spill could be cough and fever. For the long- term, it could be aplastic anemia, lung cancer, and leukemia.

NO WORD FROM NAPOCOR. Workers have been sent to start cleaning up the area, but the owner of the barge has issued any statement on the November 8 incident. Photo  by Jonathan Jurilla, Typhoon Yolanda Story Hub Visayas

Ona said the national and local governments will provide assistance to those affected by the oil spil, but Napocor has to help as well since it is the owner of the barge.

As of November 21, Napocor had refused to give a statement. Reporters saw an armed guard atop the barge.

Two died after the power barge landed on their house: Gael Manguito, 59, and Keycha Manguito, 2.

Other members of the Manguito family were injured and are in the hospital: Eleuterio Manguito, 66; Elaine Manguito, 28; Eljhon Hechanova, 14; Jhael Manguito, 5; Princess Manguito, 23. – with reports from Tiffany Marie Somes/Rappler.com

(The writers are volunteers for the Typhoon Yolanda Story Hub Visayas, a citizen journalism portal created on Nov 13, 2013, by veteran journalists, student writers, mobile journalists, and photographers based in Iloilo City. The Hub delivers reports from across the Panay Island, especially the severely damaged and minimally covered northern Iloilo and the provinces of Antique, Capiz, and Aklan.)

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