27 May 2010

What is being done about the oil spill? (27 May)

Summarising recent local media reports (with my snarky comments in brackets, I blame sleep deprivation): Out at sea, efforts were ramped up to clean up the initial 4 sq km area of oil slick from spreading inland. As part of the containment efforts, some 19 craft and 120 personnel used bio-degradable dispersants to break up the oil slick into smaller globules and some 3,300 metres of containment booms used to contain the spill.
Satellite image taken from above Changi Naval Base (rectangular shaped structure) by CRISP. The bright dots are ships and the oil slick is the patches of black around the coast. -- PHOTO: NUS

Unpredictable wind and tide conditions had made containment difficult, even though the weather was fine, said MPA. (I thought tides and currents are quite predictable?).

By 26 May evening, the oil slick had spread, first making landfall between Changi Naval Base and Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, then spreading to a 7.2 km stretch of the East Coast beach from NSRCC to the Goldkist Beach Resort chalets near Marine Vista.

What is being done to clean up the beach?

Some 80 cleaners, armed with spades to scoop up contaminated sand, and 36 officers from NEA were involved in a massive clean-up effort along the affected beaches. Efforts will resume this morning (27 May).

"Our NEA officers are working now at the beach areas to clean up the contaminated sand. Those sand that have been contaminated by the oil sludge, we actually clear up the sand, then dispose of the sand."

NEA has closed the affected beaches and put up signs advising the public not to swim.

What about the smell?
NEA again said no traces of toxic substances were found in air samples taken yesterday. The foul odour smelled in some places on Tuesday might have been from the volatile parts of the oil sludge evaporating more quickly than the heavier parts.

Mr S. Satish Appoo, NEA's director of environmental health, added that those affected were probably more sensitive to strong smells. "Durian could have the same effect on some people," he quipped. (I fail to find this remark amusing, I could hardly breathe during the three hours on the oil-stained shores of Tanah Merah today. My eyes were tearing, and not just because I was sad).

Will the slick spread further?
Professor Pavel Tkalich, an oceanographer at the Tropical Marine Science Institute, said if the slick continues spreading, it could eventually reach the Southern Islands and even Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong over the next few days.

'The slick will move back and forth and can gradually spread beyond to the southern islands in the next four days.'

He added that environmental damage to corals and mangroves in these parts would be unavoidable, but unlikely to be significant.

How long will this situation last?
There is no indication how long the slick will last. The MPA said the weather, tide and wind conditions will play an important role in the containment of the oil slick.

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