Japan Coast Guard eases Iloilo oil spill cleanup
ILOILO, Philippines – It had been a month of local workers using rice hays to absorb the spilled bunker oil in the town of Estancia. But there was no way those could match the challenge of some 900,000 liters of fuel that leaked from a barge of the state-run National Power Corporation (Napocor) during the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
Until oil pads and oil booms came to contain the bunker oil – thanks to the Japan Coast Guard.
The Japanese came here for a week, from December 4 to 9, to assist the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the local government on making the cleanup easier and technically sound.
So far, some 550,000 liters of bunker fuel had already been siphoned off by equipment from Kuan Yu Global Technologies, Commodore Athelo Ybanez of the PCG announced in a recent press conference.
Before the Japan Coast Guard came, workers had been complaining of the back-breaking and toilsome scooping and siphoning of fuel. There were only 30 workers taking 3-day shifts.
“It’s a rotational shiftwork – 30 of us work for 3 days and another batch of 30 for the next 3 days. If that’s the case, I don’t think this can be done in a matter of 3 months,” said 40-year old worker, Rudjun Dalimocon in the local language.
Another workers said: “We used to sprinkle the hays since they could help absorb the oil from the sea and then gathered them again. It was draining and very time-consuming.
With the technology, Iwao Mabuchi, deputy director of Japan’s International Affairs and Crisis Management Division, said the operation to be completed in three months and hopes that residents can go back to their homes before Christmas.
As of December 8, more than 2,000 residents of affected barangays are still in the evacuation center at the Northern Iloilo Polytechnic College Campus, Zone 1.
Mabuchi reckons said they brought the Japan Coast Guard to Estancia as part of its honoring a “memorandum of understanding of helping one another in times of emergency.”
The local workers, however, are appealing for additional workers, more equipment and protective gear, such as gloves, face masks, and goggles.The disposable overall suit provided by Kuan Yu, for instance, can only last for 3 days.
According to Kuan Yu, the Provincial Health Office mandated that workers must not come from the residents of Estancia to prevent them from suffering any ailments which may be triggered by the chemicals in the bunker fuel, but the residents had insisted on taking on jobs.
“We badly need this work because right now we don’t have any other means to make money. The money we get can help us buy shelter needs like nails,” said Rudjun who earns P350 a day for cleaning up the oil spill.
Dr. Resurreccion B. Sadaba, program manager of Oil Spill Response Program of UP Visayas, said the bunker oil contains BTEX (benzene, toulene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes), which are volatile substances. Constant exposure to these chemicals may cause skin irritation and aggravate pre-existing respiratory ailments.
Moreover, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, long-term exposure to benzene chemicals can damage the bone marrow and cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can also cause leukemia, a cancer of the blood-forming organs.
The bunker fuel also contains carcinogenic chemicals in the form of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs).
He said the ideal time for work is before 10 am and after 3 pm. In between these hours, the temperature is high, triggering chemicals to quickly evaporate, exposing workers to health risks. – Rappler.com
(The writer and photographer 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.)