Residents of Lawrence Hill, Barrackpore look at the oil in the  South Oropouche River. yesterday.

Radhica De Silva

Barrackpore residents are continuing to fall sick as thick crude oil from a ruptured pipeline continues to spread further along the South Oropouche River in Barrackpore.

Even though Heritage Petroleum says it has fixed a leaking pipeline and cleaned up the spill, dozens of residents from Lawrence Hill say they cannot stay in their homes because of the pungent hydrocarbon fumes.

When Guardian Media visited the area on Tuesday, work crews from two contract companies were suctioning oil from the tributaries off the Barrackpore Connector Road.

However, the Oropouche River was still covered with a thick coat of oil more than an inch thick.

More than 1,000 feet of the river was polluted. Overhanging tree branches and debris had trapped the oil in some places but with impending rains and possible floods, residents said they were bracing for the worse.

Dhanrajie Samrattan who came on the banks of the river to meet the media had to be taken back to her home after she started feeling nauseous and dizzy because of the scent.

Farmer Seegobin Sudan said on Saturday the smell became so bad that several children began vomiting.

“We are afraid to cook because of how high the smell is. The contractor came on the same day and watched it but they went back and never returned,” Sudan said.

Saying the oil had become trapped amidst the debris and branches hanging over the river, Sudan said many farmers were now unable to irrigate their crops with river water.

“Heritage must do something now to assist people here,” Sudan added.

Another farmer Jairaj Sookhoo who is 75-years old said he also fell sick because of the fumes.

“I cannot even stay comfortable in my own home,” he said.

Kishore Sookhoo said nothing could survive in the river.

“All the fishes have died. We heard there was a leak but we are still uncertain as to whether the leak was fixed,” Sookhoo said.

He added, “I cannot understand why Heritage has not cleaned up the river as yet. Many farmers depend on this water for their crops. People now have to look at other options and in the meantime, the elderly people and the children are falling sick,” Sookhoo added.

Meanwhile, president of the South Oropouche Riverine Flood Action group Edward Moodie said the river should be cleaned immediately.

“So far we saw a five feet long caiman covered with oil. We saw voucher (fishes) jumping in the oil, we know they are going to die. As the water level rose yesterday, a portion of the oil is being washed downstream and we are worried about the impact it will have on the mangroves and the estuaries,” Moodie said.

He explained that most of the children have been sent out of the area. There is a big welding shop not too far away and they too are worried that if they work, there could be injuries if a spark ignites a fire. Lower down the river and higher up they are doing some cleaning but in this area, nothing has been done in this area to assist the residents,” Moodie added.

Heritage responds

Meanwhile, in a statement, Heritage Petroleum said cleanup works on the river should be completed by Wednesday.

The company said around 1 pm Heritage Petroleum received reports of an oil spill in the vicinity of Wilson Road Barrackpore. Upon investigation, it discovered that the spill was emanating from a four-inch pump line.

“The leak was isolated and clamped by 3 pm on the same day. Heritage has estimated that approximately three (3) barrels of oil were spilled.

Heritage Petroleum engaged the services of a contractor to clean up the spill. Additionally, booms have been reinforced along nearby watercourses to restrict migration of spillage further downstream. No other leak has been identified and there has been no further migration into the river,” the company said.

The release also said that agricultural land in the vicinity which may have been impacted was jointly visited by Company officials and the farmer.

“It was determined that the agricultural produce was not adversely affected. Heritage Petroleum has also notified officials from the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries of the incident and is continuing to keep them appraised of related containment and recovery efforts.”

Officials of the Environmental Management Agency also visited the site on Tuesday.

The official said heavy rainfall in the area on Monday hampered cleanup operations. However, continuous monitoring (including air quality testing) and cleanup operations continued today and are expected to be completed by Wednesday.