IIT Madras report warned of long-term impact of Chennai oil spill, but officials ignored it
When two ships collided near the Kamarajar Port in Ennore on January 28, the port officials were in denial about the long-term consequences of the oil spill for days. And this denial came despite a report by IIT Madras, submitted just three days after the spill, which warned the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) of long-term consequences of the oil spill.
Long-term monitoring of spill
TNM has now accessed this report, submitted by Dr S Mohan, Professor of Environmental and Water Resources Engineering at IIT Madras on January 31. While the Kamarajar Port downplayed the magnitude of the environmental disaster that had unfolded along the Tamil Nadu coast, this report warned of dire consequences.
Noting the hazardous waste at hand, the IIT Madras report concludes stating, “Considering the presence of toxic poly aromatic hydrocarbons in the heavy oil spill, the sea, water, beaches, the coast line, fishes, bottom dwelling flora and fauna of sea requires long-term monitoring.”
Dr Mohan’s six-page report on the situation analysis in the aftermath of the oil spill explained that the initial assessment of the spilled material appeared to be fuel oil of grade 6 used in marine engines. As highlighted by volunteers on the ground and the Coast Guard, Dr Mohan also noted that “due to high viscosity and pour point of the spilled oil, the clean-up of the heavy oil is problematic.”
Warning that the oil spill may persist in the environment for a long period of time and “can cause damage to several shoreline ecosystems and beaches”, the IIT Madras report also suggests mitigation measures. One of the most crucial suggestions made by Dr Mohan is that teams must be deployed to investigate the impact of spill on shoreline, beaches and on sea. However, more than a month after the oil spill, the Tamil Nadu government is yet to form a committee to assess the damage to the coastline, reports New Indian Express.
Consumption of seafood
While the state government had on March 3 dismissed fears of the consumption of seafood, the IIT Madras report, however, states, “Continuous monitoring of fish tissue has to be undertaken intermittently over several months to monitor bio accumulation and bio magnification.” This, the report, explains would allay fears on the consumption of seafood following the oil spill and notes tht an advisory can be issued if the fish samples show “bio accumulation over a period of time.” The state government’s recent report had given the green signal on consuming fish from affected areas, stating that the “abnormal” smell of petroleum is not present in the samples.
The IIT Madras report also recommends bio-remediation to dispose of the toxic oil sludge. And while this was taken up by Indian Oil Corporation, Dr Mohan observes that monitoring borewell downstream of the bioremediation zone should be taken up to ensure that groundwater is not contaminated.