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2021 Paria Fuel Trading Oil Spill
Is The Deep Blue Sea A Large  Dustbin For The Energy Sector?

Is The Deep Blue Sea A Large Dustbin For The Energy Sector?

Below is a statement made by FFOS on new studies investigating hydrocarbon contamination in the Gulf of Paria 


Local scientists from the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) have recently published a local peer reviewed study (that has withstood the highest level scrutiny of the international scientific community) which investigated the association between human cancer risk and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) contamination in fish from the Gulf of Paria.  (see Attachment 1)

This study measured two types of health risks to citizens who consume fish from the Gulf of Paria, which are non-cancerous risks to the pulmonary, gastrointestinal, renal, and dermatologic systems and cancerous risks.

The study concluded that 14% of our citizens who eat fish from our national food-basket of the Gulf of Paria have an “adverse risk” of acquiring non-cancerous diseases such as the breaking down of red blood cells, cataracts, kidney and liver damage, jaundice, redness and inflammation of the skin. Adverse risk means that they have a very high risk of contracting these said diseases.

Furthermore, the study calculated the annual cancer risk as calculated to be 5.89 per 10,000 persons who consume fish from the Gulf of Paria. This value is almost 6 times higher than the international standard for high cancer risk (which is 1 in every 10,000 people). Cancer in the breast, lung, colon and skin is no laughing matter. This is serious data and FFOS are simply publishing data lifted from our own local university, peer reviewed, and published internationally.

These measured non-cancerous and cancerous risks have been associated with the high levels of PAHs in the Gulf of Paria, where 70% of our seafood is obtained.

Since 1976, the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has classified 16 PAHs as priority pollutants because of their potentially toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic properties.

Due to the nature of PAHs to repel water (hydrophobicity), they readily combine with sediment on the seafloor, which is consumed by bottom feeding (benthic) animals. When larger predatory fish feed on these bottom feeders and we feed on these larger fish or the bottom feeders, we become exposed to PAH toxicity.

According to the study, the areas with the highest level of PAHs were Port of Spain which were possibly due to the vehicular fossil fuel combustion and shipping activities in this major harbor and Point-a- Pierre due to high frequency of oil spills as a result of the refinery and shipping terminal that handles ocean oil tankers. 10 locations along the entire Gulf of Paria were studied. These were Port of Spain, Caroni, Orange Valley, Point Lisas, Claxton Bay, Point-a Pierre, San Fernando, Godineau Swamp, Rousillac Swamp and La Brea.

Since the 1980s scientists have stated that the Gulf of Paria was being contaminated with hydrocarbons and heavy metals. Yet up till today, there is loose regulatory enforcement of the Certificate of the Environmental Clearance (CEC) Rules, there is no mandatory legislated obligation to make risk assessments public or to act on them, (Tank 70 April 17th, 2017 even though there was warning by the Shell 2003 Risk Assessment done for Tank Farms – see Attachment 2(see particularly pg 7, 14, and 40), the Water Pollution Rules (which is long overdue and has been subject to a Ruling of the Privy Council and yet is being delayed. The WPR by order of the PC now must embody the Polluter Pay Principle to ensure polluters pay a fee for polluting the areas which in turn will be used to repair the environmental damage, and yet long after the PC Ruling Government are dragging its feet and Air Pollution Rules (which controls at levels of the chemical being emitted in our atmosphere). These Laws are meant to regulate the nature and the level of pollution entering our environment and it seems the Government are working no to protect human health.

In 1988, Professor John Agard and others studied petroleum residues in sediments from the Gulf of Paria where it was found that even when compared with some of the greatest oil producing parts of the world, the Gulf of Paria coast of Trinidad was far more polluted by petroleum hydrocarbons. They were able to identify pollution ‘hotspots’ off the oil refinery in Pointe-a-Pierre and near the mouth of the Oropouche River. They also identified the most contaminated stretch of coastline as in the La Brea to Point Fortin area.  – Attachment 3

Again in 1993, Professor John Agard and others conducted an analysis of the marine microbenthic community structure in relation to pollution, natural oil seepage and seasonal disturbance at 31 stations from Pointe-a-Pierre to La Brea. The researchers stated that the nature of contamination in the refinery area which included crude oil, trace metals, refined products and dispersants were responsible for the unstable results found in this area. (See Attachment 4)

In 2014, Daana Kanhai and others investigated and confirmed PAH presence in both shellfish (specifically oysters) and finfish (specifically catfish) in the Caroni Swamp and further indicated that PAH levels in oysters posed only a marginal added cancer risk to oyster consumers. Collectively, these findings indicate that local oyster consumers may be ingesting a literal ‘cocktail’ of chemical (heavy metals and PAHs) and microbiological contaminants which may affect consumers’ health. (See Attachment 5)

In 2016, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) commissioned UTT to test the PAH levels in the fish of Point Sable Beach- La Brea. This study concluded that “the Gulf is significantly contaminated with a variety of Persistent Organic Pollutants (PAHs and PCBs)” and that “their presence in the marine ecosystem will eventually lead to higher and higher levels in fish and, when consumed by people, to high levels in humans, thereby posing a significant threat to human health.” (See attachment 6)The Minimata Convention on Mercury is the first global agreement specifically designed to address contamination from a heavy metal. As Trinidad and Tobago is not a signatory to the Minimata Convention, our country was required to conduct a Mercury Initial Assessment (MIA) in order to assist with the preparations for the ratification and implementation of the Convention. The results of this MIA concluded that of the 17 commercially viable fish species sampled, 5 had Mercury concentrations up to 5 times greater than the World Health Organization consumption guidelines. These are the puppy shark, white mouth croaker (rocando), almaco (cavalii), amberjack (cavalii) and the banded croaker (cro cro). The data highlighted that the mercury concentrations man represent a “risk of exposure through consumptions for humans”. (See Attachment 7)

In 2018, Balgobin and Ramroop Singh reported on the impact of anthropogenic activities on Mussels (a known bio-indicator of pollution) in the Gulf of Paria. The findings demonstrated that PAH levels in the Mussels investigated were moderate to high which exceeded the European Union guidelines at various sites. The analysis revealed a high bioavailability of the identified pollutants in the Gulf of Paria from industrial, urban and marine activities. (See Attachment 8)

Given that scientific studies are now confirming what FFOS have been warning about for decades, what is our Government’s plan to address the wave of cancer related illness overcoming our people and country? And what can the EITI do to become more active in interpreting and promoting progressive action in response to science, which is more than simply a reporting template? 

Can the EITI introduce Standards to debar countries without adequate legislation, to debar nations without contract transparency, and to prohibit nations which are unable to investigate and prosecute culprits when careless leakages and accidents occur. Trinidad and Tobago has had 377 reported oil spills over a 4 year period, and yet not a single identification of the culprits, nor a single fine, and yet our nation is Validated. 

In the face of gross negligence and lackadaisical public administration, and  knowing the health and cancer implications as shown by the 2019 local study by UTT scientists, is the EITI standard simply a white washed paper pushing endorsement of our extractive failure, and can we do better? We must, together as one, raise the bar on the extractive sector so as to correct the health degradations which are nowscientifically known to us.

Together we must ensure that the culprits and violators of the public good are held accountable for their continuous flouting of the Law by dumping these toxic PAHs and heavy metals into our marine food basket or will our Government continue to wine and dine at energy cocktail parties? It is up to  us. We can and must join hands and do better.

Gary Aboud.