Isaac Vah Tukpah, Jr.
(Upper Marlboro, MD, July 24, 2020)
The attention of Africa Environmental Watch and the Liberia Emergency And Disaster Relief Fund has been drawn to the massive oil spill in the thousands of gallons accidentally discharged from the Liberia Petroleum Refinery (LPRC) storage tank into the Mesurado River on July 19, 2020 in the vicinity of the Vai Town Community and other nearby environs. Consequently, the toxic oil appeared on the riverbanks, and residents in the community, including pregnant women and children began to fetch the toxic oil perhaps for personal usage. From a professional point of view, we are concerned because the toxic oil spill: poses potential public health danger to the residents of the communities; threatens aquatic population; affects the function of the natural microbial communities; contaminates surface and underground water, biodiversity, livestock, farm crops and impacts the entire ecosystem.
Additionally, other elements such as the spread and behavior of spilt oil are driven by a variety of biological, chemical, and physical factors. Without even delving into each specific detail of this spill, we can safely say in an informed manner that the impact of the spill has the potential to negatively impact the Mesurado River, the surrounding shorelines and terrestrial wildlife remote from the site of the spill. Furthermore, under the prevailing circumstances with Covid-19 dramatically affecting how we live and how closely we can interact, it is especially important for government to ensure cleanup is properly executed and to decrease the gathering and spectacle surrounding such a spill.
As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts its investigation, we would like to take this time to call on the national government to ensure an immediate decontamination process in order to save the river from further destruction and to protect the well-being of the citizenry. We would also like to appeal to the international community to provide professional assistance to the government of Liberia in handling this spill.
From lessons learned, several oil spills have occurred in Liberia over the years such as the major oil spillage from the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) facility into the Corner West Community of the Borough of New Kru Town and very little effort was made to decontaminate and clean the community. There is a need to design standardized methodologies to cleanup different kinds of spills to ensure that the dangers posed can be easily arrested. There are different methodologies that can be adopted for the purpose of cleaning up oil spills. Some include using oil booms, skimmers, dispersants, sorbents, and burning In-situ. Based on the type of fuel that was spilled and our current weather condition, the EPA needs to investigate and take actions with extreme urgency to minimize the damage.
The AEW and LEADER Fund would like to advise that the EPA immediately take the following actions while it continues to investigate the spill:
- Immediately restrict unauthorized access to the spill area and erect signs prohibiting access to any area that has spilled fuel;
- Warn the communities directly affected of the potential dangerous impact of the spill through various outlets and in person community engagement;
- Prepare a graphical educational brochure that educates the common person on the dangers and effect of the spill for presentation and distribution in the affected communities and to the general public; and
- Deploy awareness and sensitization specialists in the communities.
Additionally, the AEW and LEADER Fund will carry out awareness activities to buttress any action the government will take. We also stand prepared to support all cleanup activities of government. Our organizations will invite the EPA, Liberia Maritime Authority, Liberia Disaster Management Agency, & LPRC to discuss the issue, assessment, containment measures, impact, and disaster preparation in order to document all actions and lessons learned for future reference. We also look forward to supporting the government in standardizing preparedness for any potential repeat as we know the government of Liberia is currently engaged in preparation for Africa’s first virtual oil block bid round.
Dr. Morris Koffa Isaac Vah Tukpah, Jr.
Executive Director Executive Director
Africa Environmental Watch Liberia Emergency And Disaster Relief Fund