06 June 2010

Oil spill: Effects on people

Fishermen were affected by the oil spill in Johor and Singapore. Mainly because the oil would gunk up their nets.
People fishing on Changi on 26 May,
two days before slick was reported on this shore.

I've finally got a breather from field trips, and thought I should do a round-up of the how the oil spill affected people. In other posts, also on the spread of the oil slick and what was done to clean it up, how the spill may affect wildlife and can it happen again?

Is it OK to fish and eat fish? What about our drinking water? Health effects?

In Singapore, OK

In Singapore, AVA said on 31 May that it has not suspended the harvesting of fish from the sea either by fishermen or from fish farms. 'The oil patches that remain are small ones,' said its spokesman. 'Fishermen are encouraged to continue fishing and avoid those oil patches.' There are currently 38 licensed coastal fishermen in Singapore who contribute 10% of locally produced fish.

The AVA said checks show that both farmed and fresh fish in Singapore are safe for consumption, and it has intensified checks of the coastal waters and fish for food safety.

But Dr Ng Ngan Kee, a researcher from the National University of Singapore, said some locally-produced and locally-caught seafood may be affected due to the oil spill. Her advice is to eat less locally-produced seafood over the next two weeks.

Eight local fish farms disagreed and said they were prepared to fork out their own money to conduct tests on their products to prove that their seafood is safe for consumption. Fish farms have stopped feeding their fishes since the accident on 25 May. This prevents the fish from surfacing and consuming the oil stains. Fish farmers said fishes can easily survive a week without food as they can survive on their own body fats. Fish farms at Pulau Ubin and Pasir Ris are also installing warning systems to monitor oxygen levels. An oxygen pump is automatically triggered if a drop in oxygen level is detected.

In Malaysia, Not OK

Pengerang Fishermen's Association president Abu Bakar Mohammad said the oil spill, which hit the area stretching from Tanjung Pengelih in Johor to Desaru, has affected more than 1,200 fishermen (reported as 1,400 fishermen in Malaysian media). Some fishermen report losing as much as RM2,000 (S$850) in earnings per day. However, a process has been put in place for fishermen seeking compensation for lost earnings. Fishermen were also paid to help clean up the spill.

No fun on the beach

Recreational use of shores in Singapore and Malaysia were affected. Some resorts in Johor reported losses during the period. In Singapore, businesses along the slicked shores were affected. On 1 Jun it was reported that owners of shops, ranging from bicycle rental stores to small cafes, bemoaned the lack of crowds during the normally busy weekend, which left many with takings down by as much as half.

What about our drinking water?

PUB said on 28 May that there was no reason to worry that contaminated water would flow to taps at home. "The outlet drains are all not linked to any reservoirs." Nevertheless, PUB immediately deployed its contractors and "started laying oil absorbents booms at the outlet drains". They also used a vacuum tanker to pump the thick oil found in one of the canals at Bayshore Road. Andy shared what he saw of the vacuum tanker.

But what about the desalination plant?
I haven't read any reports about the effect of oil in seawater processed by the plant.

Any health effects?

From Day 1, NEA repeatedly said that it has not detected "any toxic chemicals in the air that will pose health risks." despite the petroleum smell. An NEA official even said that those affected by the petroleum smell were probably more sensitive to strong smells. "Durian could have the same effect on some people," he said.

A more detailed media report said that NEA's twice-daily samples of the air along oil-soaked stretches of the East Coast beach "have not shown up any chemicals to be concerned about". NEA added that "the human nose can perceive foul odours at very low levels, before they can be picked up by instrumentation and well before they reach dangerous levels."

NEA closed affected public beaches until 4 Jun. It said on 1 Jun that samples of seawater from the affected beaches were tested and found to have no trace of harmful chemicals. However, it noted that a faint petroleum-like odour and traces of tar balls could still be detected at the edge of the water.

Tar balls are formed when crude oil mixes with water to form a sticky emulsion that looks like chocolate pudding.

When announcing on 4 Jun that it was now safe to do water activities at East Coast Beach and Changi Beach, NEA said the water at the two beaches have returned to normal. It said "the public may still come across some small tar balls along the shoreline". NEA says there is no cause for alarm, as "contact with the tar balls will not cause any harm. Anyone who comes into contact with these tar balls can remove them with soap and water."

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