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Kerosene identified as mystery fume

Officials say pollution caused by offloading of fuel at Petrojam

Friday, July 13, 2012    

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THE offloading of kerosene at Petrojam's off shore facility in the vicinity of Hunt's Bay in Kingston was yesterday identified as the source of last month's 'mystery' fumes which had forced a shutdown of the Portmore toll road after a number of highway workers became sick.

Environment Minister Robert Pickersgill said that the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which had the responsibility for determining the source and cause of the pollution, concluded that the source was "petroleum based and [may have] occurred from the Petrojam unloading activities during the morning of June 28".

However, NEPA did not confirm whether the incident was as a result of kerosene being stolen from Petrojam.

"Petrojam reported that there were some illegal activities at the port," Peter Knight, chief executive officer of NEPA, said at a press briefing at the ministry's office in Kingston yesterday.

The fumes caused a shutdown of the toll plaza in Portmore for several hours, which caused a severe traffic gridlock in the city, while the Kingston transshipment port, and businesses along Port Henderson Road and Marcus Garvey Drive closed early and staff sent home.

Apart from NEPA, other agencies that assisted with the investigations included the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, the Fire Brigade, Ministry of Heath, Marine Police, and the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard.

Pickersgill also said investigations found that offloading from ships and bunkering activities took place within the zone of influence, that is, the Petrojam Pier, offshore Port Royal and the Kingston Container Terminal and Gordon Cay.

He also said information from Petrojam confirmed "the loss of a significant quantity of kerosene during loading operations at the port".

Petrojam, he said, was doing its own investigation.

"I have instructed that the CEO of NEPA bring these matters to the attention of the chairman and members of the National Resources Conservation Authority for the necessary workplace, costing and implementation schedule to be determined," said Pickersgill.

Knight, meanwhile, said the vessels that were offloading have been identified.

He did not give an estimate of the cost of the investigation, only saying it "cost a pretty penny" with one specialised laboratory charging $600,000 to test one sample. He said about eight such samples were tested.

Yesterday, head of the Jamaica Environment Trust, Diana McCaulay — who attended the press conference — praised NEPA for the quality of its investigations, but questioned whether anyone would be held responsible for the spill.

"The investigation was brilliant. They tested the first responder's masks and filters in the air conditioning in cars that went through the toll plaza; they identified a set of pollutants which led them in the direction of the operation and they were able to identify an entity responsible and a process that brought about the spill. That's the kind of investigation we want to see more of," she told the Jamaica Observer.

McCaulay said the authorities knew the incident was a breach of at least two laws, but asked "Why this caginess about what is the next step?"

McCauley also asked whether a bond was in place for such incidents "so that taxpayers don't have to bear the cost of clean-up".

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