EMA to probe La Brea chemical fire

While in­ves­ti­ga­tors say yes­ter­day’s mas­sive fire at Kaizen En­vi­ron­men­tal Ser­vices did not re­sult in in­jury to work­ers or dam­age to prop­er­ty, there are con­cerns about the harm­ful ef­fects to the en­vi­ron­ment.

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Au­thor­i­ty (EMA) is ex­pect­ed to vis­it the waste-treat­ment fa­cil­i­ty in the La Brea In­dus­tri­al Es­tate to­day to de­ter­mine whether the com­pa­ny’s op­er­a­tions ad­here to its Cer­tifi­cate of En­vi­ron­men­tal Clear­ance.

Res­i­dents from as far as San Fer­nan­do and Point Fortin re­port­ed see­ing thick black smoke from their homes af­ter the fire broke out ear­ly yes­ter­day.

Fish­er­men and Friends of the Sea cor­po­rate sec­re­tary Gary Aboud mean­while called on the EMA to ex­plain why pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures such as a fire trace, fire bar­ri­cade or buffer zone have not been main­tained in the area sur­round­ing the plant. On his Face­book page yes­ter­day, Aboud said that chem­i­cal waste fa­cil­i­ties deal with and store dan­ger­ous car­cino­gens, volatile and tox­ic sub­stances.

“For years FFOS has com­plained that all waste fa­cil­i­ties are im­prop­er­ly and loose­ly man­aged. To­day’s (yes­ter­day’s) fire has re­leased tox­ic gas­es and chem­i­cals which will en­ter our Gulf of Paria ma­rine food bas­ket,” Aboud said.

Con­tact­ed yes­ter­day, EMA man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Hay­den Ro­mano said the au­thor­i­ty was not the on­ly reg­u­la­to­ry agency and works with­in its re­mit. He said he had heard about the claims Aboud made yes­ter­day.

“As part of the CEC that would have been grant­ed to Kaizen, we would have vis­it­ed the site in the past. We would have been in dis­cus­sions with Kaizen and we will con­tin­ue our in­ves­ti­ga­tion to­mor­row (to­day) once the fire of­fi­cers say the site is safe to en­ter,” Ro­mano said.

At the time of the fire, EMA per­son­nel were in the Gulf of Paria col­lect­ing sam­ples as part of a project to de­tect sources of pol­lu­tants that stream in­to the sea. Be­cause of that, they were able to get a view of the fire. How­ev­er, EMA per­son­nel were not al­lowed on the site as fire of­fi­cers told them that breath­ing equip­ment was re­quired.

Ro­mano said a pre­lim­i­nary re­port stat­ed that like last week’s fire at Earth En­vi­ron­men­tal Ltd in Guapo, yes­ter­day’s was al­so start­ed by the spread of a bush fire.

Po­lice said a bush fire that was blaz­ing on the es­tate spread to one of a few ponds con­tain­ing hy­dro­car­bon waste. With a large sup­ply of ac­cel­er­ant, the fire raged on for hours, lead­ing to fire ap­pli­ances from the Point Fortin, Siparia and Mon Re­pos re­spond­ing to the blaze. Af­ter hours of bat­tling with the use of foam, the of­fi­cers were fi­nal­ly able to ex­tin­guish the fire around mid­day.

The Na­tion­al En­er­gy Cor­po­ra­tion (NEC), which man­ages the es­tate, has be­gun an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to de­ter­mine what led to the fire. NEC cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ag­er Gre­go­ry Sealy said the cor­po­ra­tion re­ceived re­ports of the fire and con­tact­ed the fire ser­vice.

Sealy said wit­ness­es re­port­ed that they heard an ex­plo­sion be­fore see­ing the fire. He said the fire was brought un­der con­trol just af­ter mid­day and there were no re­ports of dam­age to prop­er­ty or in­jury to per­son­nel.

Kaizen’s waste ser­vices di­vi­sion pro­vides waste man­age­ment ser­vices to the in­dus­tri­al, petro­chem­i­cal and en­er­gy sec­tor.

 - by Kevon Felmine. Photo by Rihsi Ragoonath.

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