Oil depot breaks environmental laws; suspended

Larraine Marketing, the source of oil spill in Pasig River, has been operating for years without environmental and business permits

CLEAN UP. The Coast Guard continues clean up of the Pasig river after the oil spill. Photo by Leanne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The oil depot responsible for the oil spill in the Pasig River has been operating without environmental permits since 2005.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has thus ordered the suspension of Larraine Marketing (L&M) for violating environmental laws.

In a notice of violation sent to L&M, the DENR’s Environment Management Bureau (EMB) said on Monday, June 24, the company “committed two violations as found during the inspection” conducted by DENR on Sunday, June 23, the day after the spill.

The document, signed by National Capital Region Director Vizminda Osorio, said L&M violated the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 for “operating air pollution source installations” without a permit to operate.

It alos violated the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Waster Control Act of 1990 for failing to notify the DENR of “the type and quantity of hazardous wastes generated.”

Because of the violations, DENR suspended the facility’s environmental compliance certificate and filed for a cease-and-desist order against L&M.

Osorio clarified, however, that the suspension may still be revoked.

“We can lift it if everything is complied with, such as the conditions set in the law,” she said.

The regional director said the DENR-EMB may file charges against L&M, depending on the findings of an ongoing investigation on the cause of the oil spill.

On Saturday, June 22, a horrid stench roused residents along the Pasig River in Sta Ana, Manila. Officials found it came from an oil spill from one of L&M’s tanks. The leak resulted in 500 to 1,000 liters of used oil spilling into the river.

No business permit?

According to the Coast Guard, the facility’s drainage system meant only to release water. It has stopped leaking gas since they started observing it on Sunday, 3pm.

Officials have determined the source of the leak as Tank 9, a bunker fuel container that can hold up to 80,000 liters of oil. It was emptied as of Monday morning, after it was suspected to have been the cause of the leak.

About 44,000 liters of used oil was retrieved from Tank 9 when it was emptied.

Manila City Administrator Jesus Mari Marzan said they will continue probing L&M as to why it was storing used oil when it was only allowed to store finished petroleum. Used oil is obtained from turbines, transmission, engines, and the sort.

INVESTIGATION. Officials of various agencies investigate Larraine Marketing, the source of the oil spill in Pasig river. Photo by Leanne Jazul/Rappler

Marzan said he has yet to receive a copy of L&M’s business permit, and has been unable to check the city’s files because the incident happened over the weekend and Monday was Manila Day, a non-working holiday.

He said he would also look into whether or not L&M’s business permit was renewed, and whether or not shortcuts were used in the process either by L&M’s owner or city hall officials.

“If we see there was a violation on their part, we can revoke their permit,” Marzan told reporters. “There will be an investigation if they followed the process or they used a shortcut.”

Marzan was not able to say how many oil depots are spread around the city, but said they will map warehouses on Tuesday, June 25, when Manila businesses return to work. He said they will also look into the permits of these depots following the L&M oil spill.

Spill contained

Since the spill, the Coast Guard has successfully contained the oil from spreading to a wider area using a boom or a barrier, and absorbers. The surface of the affected area have since turned into a murky green, peppered with dead fish.

Christopher Meniado, commander of the Coast Guard Station in Pasig, explained the clean-up will take 2-3 days, at which point the oil will naturally decompose in the river. He also said the incident could have been worse if not for the water lilies, which absorbed the oil and helped contain its spread.

So far, Meniado said they have been able to retrieve 100 to 200 liters of the 500 to 1000 liters of oil spilled into the river. Collecting the water lilies will mean they will be able to remove more, but said “definitely it won’t be 100% retrieved.”

Because of this, Meniado expects more fish will die, with the oil affecting the amount of oxygen in the river.

‘My chest hurt’

Also on Tuesday, a private company will conduct a water test to determine what exactly caused the leak.

L&M’s lawyer has cried sabotage, saying someone deliberately spilled oil into the river. He said the company is in the middle of a labor dispute.

Residents of Barangay Sto Niño in Sta Ana, Manila, however, have a different theory.

OIL CONTAINMENT. The Coast Guard says the clean up of the oil spill will take 2-3 days. Photo by Leanne Jazul/Rappler

Kagawad Dennis Layonado told Rappler they have seen L&M spill oil into the river at night or when it rains. He said they shine their flashlights on them from across the river, and have reported it to L&M’s barangay chairperson, who allegedly forwarded the claim to outgoing Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim.

He said no one came to give them gas masks.

Another resident, Marites Malabanan, said she smells gas often from their home, but that this time was extreme and intolerable.

“I told my husband, it really smells bad. Sometimes it went away, sometimes it came back depending on the wind. The next day my head hurt and my chest hurt,” she said. “It was hard to breathe.” – Rappler.com

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