April 9, 2016

On-going Fish Kills in La Brea

Introduction

There has been a great deal of misinformation in the aftermath of the oil spill disaster of 2013, about what happened, what was done in the clean-up, what is still going on and even the motivations of those (including Fishermen and Friends of the Sea) speaking out against on-going ecological disaster but please hear us out.

We have comprised a summary of our observations of continuous death of marine life (a variety of fish, pelicans, dolphins, corbeaux etc.) in these specific locations and the correlation of these impacts to the methods and chemicals used by Petrotrin. We also outline our evidence refuting the proposed explanations of the relevant authorities on the matter and suggest course of action we feel must be taken.

We are coming from a position of earnest sincerity and have no deceitful motivations, we seek only that this serious matter be investigated and that those affected by helped. We deeply appreciate the time you are taking in considering our concerns and thank you in advance for any way you can help us in this endeavour.

Background

On December 17th 2013 state owned oil giant, the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (Petrotrin) reported eleven (11) oil spills, which resulted in the release of an unknown quality of the oil (estimates are in the tens of thousands of barrels) into the Gulf of Paria. The oil dispersant COREXIT® EC9500A was used indiscriminately and negligently in the near shore area causing the oil to become emulsified and sink. Due to the movement of the currents in the Gulf of Paria proven by the late Professor Kenny the tides pushed these submerged chemicals (oil bubbles coated in Corexit), into the mangrove and the lagoon, and under the sea bed and sand, where we believe it still remains today. For the past three years, whenever there is oceanic turbulence or heavy rainfall, thousands of dead or dying fish wash ashore.

In 2013, these contaminated areas were declared by Petrotrin to be a “Red Zone” in which all fishing was banned. It was never stated what was the criterion were used to lift this ban.

Clean up Efforts

Since 2003 Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, FFOS have lobbied for an “oil spill preparedness and response” plan which was trinidad&Tobago, Trinidad, 2014, South West Coast, La Brea, Oil Spill along gulf-of-paria, oil-pollution caused by State Oil Company Petrotrin, that ruined mangroves, marine-life, beaches and artisanal fishery communities along trinidad's south west coastpresented at the Petroleum Conference of 2003.

In a release to the media FFOS publicly commend Justice Frank Seepersad for his Judgement against Petrotrin and his commentary on how poorly they dealt with the oil spills. In his judgment, Justice Seepersad states that Petrotrin was under prepared for such an issue; “It should have always been at the forefront of contemplation that an oil spill could occur and a clearly defined and methodical system should have been in place to deal with any such circumstance. This oil spill was a matter of national concern. The entire beach and coast line which was affected was deemed to be hazardous.”

The High Court Judge also spoke out against the inadequacies of the law in dealing with this environmental disaster, saying that the maximum fine of only $10,000 needs to be increased and is not even a slap on the wrist to oil companies.

Justice Frank Seepersad also expressed great concern as to the adequacy and effectiveness of the clean up after the oil spill, (something FFOS has been exposing for years), and that the oil spill clean-up operations were not undertaken by skilled people with the requisite degree of specialisation. He says that the methods used by Petrotrin “appeared to be ad hoc, antiquated and arbitrary”.  Understanding the severity of and seriousness of the spill, the Judge compared the clean-up to a game of “Russian roulette” with the lives of the residents living along the affected beaches in La Brea.

Observed Impacts

For the past three years (since the oil spill) every single day, fish continue to wash ashore (alive, dying or dead), particularly in the La Brea area from Otaheiti to Point Fortin, now dead fish are beginning to wash ashore in Mosquito Creek as well, in the same area which was once marked as Petrotin’s “Red Zone”. When there are heavy rains, or rough seas this amount of fish increases dramatically. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to support these claims, with photos of thousands of fish or a wide variety of species. Fishermen have informed us that what we see washing ashore is still only a fraction of the numbers dying, saying that some days it is impossible to even throw a fishing line let alone a net due to ocean of dead fish in waters they have fished their entire lives.

IMG_7649IMG_1454discovery of burial of fish 1a55e2d74-d5cd-4003-ae7d-7be7367acca0

Ecological & Environmental Impacts

In his address to the Environmental Management Authority the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has described these oil spills as the most egregious anthropogenic ecological disaster in the history of the nation, and our finding while inconclusive certainly suggest that he is correct.

The health of the fisheries is often used as an indicator of the overall well-being of the aquatic ecosystem and in the Gulf of Paria it is at an all-time low.

The IMA and EMA state that “there is no visible evidence of an oil spill in the area”. We have shown over and over that the Corexit mixed with the hydrocarbon is still visibly lodged in the mangrove, on the seabed and under the sand.

Social & Public Health Impacts

In a January 2014 press release, La Brea MP Fitzgerald Jeffrey reported that the oil spill affected residents of Coffee Beach were falling sick and that he believed their illnesses were linked to Petrotrin’s use of Corexit. This was not the only time this was said, with the complaints of residents and reports of people falling ill in the area appeared in the news and were related to us again and again (See New reports section in the Appendix). These people will continue to suffer the long term effect of these ailments and unless and until an underlying cause for these ailments is found, health professional will only be able to treat their symptoms.

Fishermen are struggling to make a living. There catch rates have been dramatically decreased. The fisheries have been ravaged by seismic surveying, pollution, quarry induced siltation, illegal trawling and poor fishing practices, but the fishermen in this area have an additional worry. Even if they can manage to make a living off of the damaged fish stock, fishing as they have been doing their entire lives; even if they catch enough and can sell enough, they have to worry if they are serving poisoned and toxic fish to their to their families.

Possible Causes

We cannot say definitely what is causing these fish kills but FFOS is certain that it is not the by catch discard of our members. We are calling for independently verified scientific data to be collected and made public on the health of fish stocks from Otaheiti to Point Fortin, and also the quality of water at the intake for the Point Fortin Desalination Plant. Due to the inaction of the authorities FFOS has contracted CARIRI to begin testing the area. The test we as a non-profit organisation can afford are still quite limited and may not be indicative of the entire area.

Missing Information

After numerous letters, FFOS sought access to the Report of the NEATF under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from several government institutions and ministries including UWI, EMA, IMA, the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Trade as well as Petrotrin. FFOS was not successful. The Report was classified as a ‘Cabinet Document’ and exempt from the FOAI.
FFOS also searched the libraries of the IMA and EMA for any information relevant to the Petrotrin Oil Spill of 2013 but was unable to locate any information on oil spills prior to July of 2016. An internet search revealed that samples taken from impacted areas after the 2013 spill had been sent abroad to be analyzed. Every year since the spill at the onset of the rainy season fish kill occurred in the La Brea area. More oil spills have occurred since 2013 including as recently as mid-2016. Fish continue to wash ashore up to today.

Erroneous Statements by EMA/IMAfish_8

21st July, 2016: Preliminary results indicate that the dead fish washing ashore may have been dumped. Red marks on fish may have been from the nets used to catch them. 99% of the fish observed were herring (bait fish).

26th July, 2016: No compounds matching COREXIT were found in any sediment or water samples. All body systems of fish analzed were found to be “grossly normal”. The likely cause of the fish kill was “dumped fish”.

2nd August 2016: Further to water fish and sediment samples taken in the Gulf of Paria ( La Brea to Otaheite) no compounds matching COREXIT were found and pathology tests on fish showed all systems to be “grossly normal”.

17th August, 2016: Tests conducted by CARIRI on water, sediment and fish ruled out COREXIT as a cause for dead fish and no compounds matching COREXIT were found. CARIRI “was only able to detect Petroleum Hydrocarbons (PHCs) in catfish samples. The release went on to note the absence of international standards for TPH levels in fish. The statement noted that the levels of TPH found in the fish were “considerably lower than those reported by FFOS” in an earlier release.

Despite eye witness accounts, the testimony of residents and local primary stakeholder, photos, videos, the EMA/IMA remain steadfast that the recent dead fish were dumped by fishermen. Their report on the 2014 fish kill concluded that fish died suddenly from “entirely natural” algal blooms, resulting a drop in water oxygen levels and that COREXIT in particular and petrochemical toxins in general, were not the cause of death and that more analyses needed to be done.

Following fish kills in 2016 FFOS decided to investigate the matter itself and commissioned CARIRI to conduct analyses. Three sets of analyses were commissioned.

FFOS clash (1)Evidence against “Fish Dumping” allegations

The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) and the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) on their latest response to the dead fish in the contaminated “Red Zone” of the South West Peninsula say it is that it is fish purposefully dumped by the areas struggling fishermen. For a number of reasons outlined below this seem very unlikely.

Most notably there is no logical reason for our fisher folk to discard millions of dollars of commercial fish.

The fact is, it is not only dead fish but living fish washing ashore, flapping on the sand and dying. We have multiple instances of this documented in video footage.

This is not a one-time event, we have dated photos, videos, eye witness reports that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that is an on-going event that has been happening since the oil spill and will continue until measures are taken.

The share volume of fish that have been washing up over time and in more visible incident such as mosquito creek which follow the heavy rains would take an exceptionally number of vessels to accomplish. Most fishermen in the area operate very small boats with a crew of one or two men; they simply do not have the capacity, even if they wanted to throw away their hard earning catch to produce so much dead fish in so consistent a manner.

Apart from the act of massive dumping a variety of sizable high value fish by struggling fishermen complaining about poor catch rates, the explanation that all of the fish we have been recording over the years being dumped by fishermen still does not explain the numerous dead, sick and dying flipper dolphins, pelican, corbeaux even dogs.

The fish do not have net marks, for example a large number of catfish a reputedly very hardy fish were among those washing ashore dying and were collected, according to the fishermen we were consulting a catfish caught in a net would usually have had the spiny rays of its dorsal fin broken by being entangled and in no specimens was this observed.

catfishThe fish have what appear to be chemical burns or red marks consistent with the effect of Corexit. For several months while the “Red Zone” area remained closed countless marine animals washed ashore daily, most of which had lesions similar to the fish seen today. We have already shown that we believe the clean-up was superficial and improperly executed and we know that the fish deaths never stopped.

From our readings of reports emanating from the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, red marks/lesions/blotches under the skin/scales is one of the symptom marks of Corexit 9500 exposure.

The secrecy surrounding the finding of studies and reports is most disconcerting. If the area is truly clean why then instead of releasing the report and further investigating our claims, the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) still suggests the likely cause of the fish kills is the dumping of unwanted catch (despite it being high value commercial fish) by an unknown party or parties.”  The IMA claims that the dead fish have been tested consistently since the oil spills but these tests never been published.

The most recent IMA/EMA media release states that samples were collected in Mosquito Creek, which is about half a mile north of the “Petrotrin prohibited Red Zone” area. The IMA and EMA should travel further south to the Carrot Shed Beach in La Brea where large quantities of marine life continue to wash ashore daily as it is entirely possible and quite likely that the daily carnage in the “Red Zone” could be the source of these Mosquito Creek fish.

According to the IMA an overwhelming majority of the dead fish was composed of a single species of herring. In past reports they stated that the only fish being dumped was mullet. This is being disputed by primary stakeholders, news reports, eye witness testimony, photos and videos. How then did the IMA calculations of a ninety-nine percent (99%) herring composition seems unlikely.

It should also be noted that Petrotrin is state owned, as is the EMA and the IMA. They are therefore not independent.

The Findings of the FFOS’ Investigations

CARIRI Lab Service Report #1  Three water, three sediment and three fish samples were taken and analyzed for TPH. Control samples of water and sediment were also taken at Maracas. The results show measurable levels of TPH in both water and sediment samples from La Brea (about 10 x that found at Maracas). TPH were found in all fish samples (334, 2,680 and 502 mg/kg).

CARIRI Lab Service Report #2 –  FFOS managed to get agreement from EMA to jointly commission this sampling and analyses from CARIRI. Analyses were done mostly on fish plus two sediment samples. The results show significant levels of TPHs in the fish. Salmon (4 fish tested):{51, 139, 1,620, 486 mg/kg}, Catfish (4 fish tested):{26,757, 2,143, 1,895, 1,763 mg/kg} Sapate (1 fish tested):{517 mg/kg}, Cro Cro (1 fish tested):{75 mg/kg} Boshea (1 fish tested): {1,978} Sediment (2 taken): {26,202, 457 mg/kg}

UTT Lab Report on PAHs  Analyses were requested for Poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The most significant endpoint of PAH toxicity is cancer. After chronic exposure, the non-carcinogenic effects of PAHs involve primarily the pulmonary, gastrointestinal, renal, and dermatologic systems.

These results again confirm the contamination indicative of oil spill pollution well over international limits, benchmarks or standards. Persistent Organic Pollutants (PAHs and PCBs) at 482.05 μg/kg in fish and 147 280.85 μg/kg in sediment. The European Union standard is 2μg/kg in fish. It means the fish flesh contain cancer causing agents at 241 times more than the safe consumption level set for Europe.

According to professors at UTT, “It is clear that there is significant contamination,” and when exposed “poses a significant threat to human health.”

COREXIT® EC9500A

COREXIT® EC9500A is a chemical dispersant used to scatter the surface oil in the remediate and cleanup of oil spills. There are guidelines to its use which stipulate that it is only to be used in water which is at least sixty meters deep and at least one hundred meters offshore (see appendix for the MSDS for the chemical) neither of these instructions were followed. Petrotrin used COREXIT® EC9500A in the near shore shallow waters causing the oil to emulsify, spread into the mangrove and sink to the bottom binding with the sediment, preventing its breakdown, which we believe is what is causing this entire issue.

The fish kills we are experiencing in La Brea parallels the ongoing disaster that is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill which occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. On April 19, 2013, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) in the U.S. released a report which detailed long-term effects on human and ecosystem health in the Gulf of Mexico due to the extensive use of Corexit. Freedom of Information Act requests filed by various environmental watchdog groups in the U.S. have revealed that Corexit contains chemicals associated with a range of diseases and disorders including cancer. It is important to note that Nalco, the manufacture of Corexit, is headed by executives from BP and Exxon, some of the world’s most powerful oil and gas companies.

Not only does Corexit increase the toxicity of oil, but the mixture of Corexit and oil is easily absorbed by aquatic life and human skin. Over time these toxins bioaccumulate (they become more concentrated as they move up the food chain), from plankton to fish, and eventually to humans and their newborn babies. According to GAP, “evidence suggests that the cleanup effort has been more destructive to human health and the environment than the spill itself.” Some formulations of Corexit have even been banned in the United Kingdom (the home of BP).

In response to BP’s 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill, Gina Solomon, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council in the US, advised that “there’s a critical need for ongoing testing in the coming months or years to assure that the seafood is not only safe now, but stays safe.” Many of the dead or dying fish washing up on our shores have lesions under their scales. Have the EMA and the IMA need to determine the extent to which these chemical dispersants h ave accumulated in the tissue of fish and other aquatic life in the Gulf of Paria.

The implications for human health when this seafood is consumed is not fully known and the Ministry of Health should make provisions in their tests for populations with higher rates of seafood consumption and vulnerable populations such as children, pregnant women and the elderly.

Confirmation that there is no residual Corexit impacting the intake water quality of the Point Fortin Desalination Plant also needs to be confirmed.

Suggested Course of Action

More information is needed and this disaster is far from over.  FFOS respectfully request that you consider the following urgent responses to this dire situation:

  • The reopening of the investigation
  • That primary stakeholders/local fisher folk and residents be consulted throughout this process
  • That stakeholder delegates, be permitted to witness the deliberations of the appointed task force.

Until this is done, and the cause of the death of marine life in this area are determined and the area rehabilitated, that;

  • No fishing or shrimp trawling is allowed in this area and no seafood should be sold or consumed from this “Red Zone”.
  • No recreational activities are allowed on these directly impacted beaches.
  • An immediate investigation is launched to determine if the water provided to Point Fortin Desalination facility and other nearby desalination plants are safe for human consumption.