Following series of articles published in local dailies and on social media platforms aimed at disparaging the Deputy Executive Director of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), with many wondering as to what gave rise to these publications that may have the propensity to bring that important institution to public disdain, a team of GNN-Liberia recently took off time to independently find out the reason behind all of these hullabaloos.
In a bid to do this, the team from the GNN-Liberia took off time this week to exclusively interview Mr. Randall M. Dobayou II, at his Sinkor office who is believed to be the victim of all of these negative media propaganda despite of his busy schedule. Earlier, Mr. Dobayou who decided not to give credence to these negative reports, later on accepted our request for an interview to clarify what he called, ‘Fabricated and Self-proclaimed media reports.
At the start of the interview, Mr. Dobayou who is also the acting Executive Director in his soft-spoken tune debunked and condemned all of the publications, making specific reference of the most recent publication featured in a local daily which misled the public in relations to on how fines are imposed on violators who import or export prohibited hazardous waste.
Explaining to our team, Mr. Dobayou quoting a provisions that govern the EPA which notes, “Any person who imports into Liberia, exports out of Liberia, and transports within Liberia, hazardous waste except as prescribed by the provision of this section commits an offence and is on conviction liable to a fine not exceeding US$50,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or to both,” but instead this provisions was reportedly misquoted by the daily given alleged misinformation to the public.
This alleged misinformation released to the public did not go down well with Mr. Dobayou when the daily paper in its publication asserted that the EPA acting Director fined the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) for importing hazardous chemicals in the country US$10,000.00, while similar offense which was committed by a private company, York Trading Incorporated was fined US$1,400.00 in April this year instead by the acting Executive Director, Randall
Dobayou who is a product of the Vatterott Technical College in the United States as a technical specialist in wind turbine technology, refrigeration and ventilation, and currently enrolled at the Clark University in Washington, the United States for an MSc in Environmental science and development policy, setting the record straight, said the writer of the article deliberately refused to research in order to understand the provisions of the EPA in order to properly inform the public failed to do so as to how fines are imposed.
The writer of the story further stated that The containers of hazardous substance was released to the company without any evidence of an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) report submitted to the EPA by York Trading Incorporated; No evidence of Consultant that was hired by York Trading that prepared the EMP as claimed; No evidence of the payment of the ESIA permit processing fees; no evidence of the Date of review of the EMP; No site verification report and name of technical staff who participated in the review process; and No evidence of inputs or review outcomes from the review of the EMP.
EPA Reaction as mention in its Rebuttal, noting the hard facts based on Science and the Law
Let it firstly be stated that LEC did not bring in any chemical as falsely stated by the reporter. LEC was rather fined because of the transformer waste which they handled carelessly.
Now know the facts
In January 2019, the management of the Liberia Electricity Corporation requested the intervention of the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the overwhelming nature of waste at LEC facility on Bushrod Island. Responding to this request, a technical team consisting relevant staff of the EPA conducted a thorough inspection of the facility. The team identified various waste stream (faulty transformers, used HFO and LFO, asbestos, metal scraps and other general wastes).
On the 23rd of January, a communication was sent to LEC detailing the procedure the hiring of a waste service provider by the LEC and the development and submission (for approval) of an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for the safe disposal of waste stream identified. Since then, the LEC failed to comply with the submittal of the EMP as requested by the EPA.
In November 2019, the EPA was tipped off that the LEC had hired the services of EDGAIL Inc. a licensed hazardous waste service provider to dispose of the faulty transformers without doing due diligence (informing the EPA and submitting EMP) as requested in the January 23 communication. Immediately after receiving the tip-off, the EPA communicated with both LEC and EDGAIL to cease all activities regarding the faulty transformers and present all relevant documentations (quantity, specification or type, chain of custody and protocol or disposal plan).
On January 3, 2020, a team of technicians from the EPA was dispatched to the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) office on Bushrod Island to quantity the faulty transformers and collect random oil samples from different brands of faulty transformers to test for a banned substance called poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The team arrived at LEC premises and, in the presence of LEC and EDGAIL representatives, collected oil samples from five brands of transformers. The oil samples were transported to the Environmental Research and Standards Laboratory in Sinkor for Qualitative Analysis consistent with standard analytical protocols. The results of the analyses showed that two of the five transformer brands tested positive for PCBs. The real Reason LEC was fined is because of the PCBs.
PCBS were formerly used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment because they have high dielectric strength, are good insulators and are not flammable. They are, however, banned worldwide due to evidence of their harmful impact to the environment and human health. PCBs can be released into the environment through spills, leaks from electrical and other equipment, and improper disposal and storage. Once in the environment, PCBs can be transported long distances and they bind strongly to soil and sediment so they tend to be persistent in the environment and in the food chain. Studies of PCBs in humans have found increased rates of cancer in different organs (skin, liver, gall bladder etc.). Unlike the case of LEC which involves PCBs, York trading brought into Liberia Sulfuric acid which is legally allowed to be imported to Liberia except that they did not obtain permit prior to importation.
Section 63 (1) of the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia (EMPL) requires all persons carrying out undertakings which discharge pollutants into the environment to submit on demand, accurate information about the quality and quantity of such effluent or other pollutants. The management of LEC failed to test and/or declare the quality of the transformer oil before opening a bid process for disposal. LEC also failed to present an EMP for the disposal. Additionally, section 56 talks about “spillers liability’ which prohibits the discharge of hazardous substances into the environment and holds the “polluters” liable for said pollution. LEC was fined on the basis of the Spillers Liability and the polluter pay principle because their action has directly impacted the environment. Unlike LEC, York Trading Containers were seized at the port until the the legal process was completed.
York Trading Compared to LEC
When EPA was contacted about the case, our first concern was to verify whether the product was sulfuric acid as claimed by the importer and not any other acid. Hence, on April 14, 2020, a technical team led by Rafael S. Ngumbu, EPA laboratory supervisor, collected samples of the chemical from the container for testing. The results of the analytical testing revealed that the product is, indeed, sulfuric acid.
However, it was also discovered that concentration of the acid was overestimated. Instead of 98 -96% concentrated sulfuric acid, it was revealed that the acid is 70%. The discrepancy in the concentration may either be due to overstay of the acid or the manufacturer deliberately adulterated the product. Whatever the case, given the intended purpose of the product, according to the importer, we concluded that the acid is still useful.
According to the importer, over 95% of the product is sold to local rubber farmers while the remaining users use it to either refill battery or for mining purpose. The Technical team then concluded to fine the York trading 1400 USD because of the demonstrate willingness to go through the legal process. We also considered the environmental footprint of the Acid especially when such acid is legally allowed in Liberia. The Fined was later paid to LRA and an application for EMP was later requested by York Trading. Attached is the fine payment receipt, and the request for permit. Contrary to the publication, the acid is yet to be used by York trading until the permit process is over. The acid is stored at a competent warehouse and is monitored by the Agency.
Also the allegation that US$1,400.00 is the least fine ever to be levied by the EPA is a big lie, just to name a few, we just fined the Ducor water company US$1,000.00. There are instances that the agency did not even fine. For Example, The We repatriated 4 forty FT containers back to Greece, those containers contained toxic waste which has the tendency to cause cancer. In fact, the case of those containers is bigger than the offense of both LEC and York; this was done not when I was acting head of EPA, where was the publisher? Is that too a violation? The Fact here is, the law gives the agency the authority to act base on the science and professional judgement. The law only gives you the amount you cannot exceed, you could even fine 5cent, it depends on the magnitude of the offense and the willingness of the violator to come in compliance with the law.