Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer
The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has punched holes into claims by state-run oil refinery Petrojam that contents released from a punctured five-gallon container were the source of the chemical pollution across sections of the Corporate Area last week.
Petrojam, in an emailed response to The Gleaner, said members of its Safety, Environment and Quality Department were investigating an odour complaint when they were informed that "a five-gallon pail was accidentally punctured and the contents released on the ground during clean-up activities".
The response came two days after the questions were submitted to Petrojam's public relations officer, Latoya Pennant.
Petrojam said although representatives of NEPA were on the premises at the time, the matter was not reported to them because the safety team was only informed of the spill minutes earlier "and was still investigating the source of the odour".
However, in a swift response, CEO of NEPA, Peter Knight, said "that doesn't make any sense" and questioned the veracity of Petrojam's claim.
"When we ask them what was in the five-gallon pail, they can't tell us," Knight said, pointing out that his office had still not been able to identify the leaked chemical.
He also asserted that no five-gallon container could have released fumes across "such a vast geographic area".
NEPA has reported receiving complaints about the noxious fumes from the Molynes Road area, miles away from Petrojam's Marcus Garvey Drive refinery.
CAUSED DISRUPTIONS, ILLNESS
The fumes, the second such pollution incident traced to Petrojam in the last five months, also forced the closure of several schools and left several persons feeling sick.
"No five-gallon thing of anything could have expanded over that swath of geographical area to create that impact," he asserted.
"We would like to know what was this material that could have impacted over such a wide area. We have asked them that question and we can't get an answer," Knight insisted.
In its emailed response to The Gleaner, Petrojam said it was "still awaiting the results of confirmatory tests on the identity of the chemical".
Asked if anyone has been held responsible, Petrojam said "internal investigations are ongoing and will inform our disciplinary procedures".
But Knight charged that Petrojam's conduct, like many corporate entities, amounts to a test of NEPA's commitment to thoroughly investigate environmental breaches.
"I am saying to you, it is a wrong premise because based on our investigative and environmental-assessment capacity now, that is not going to happen. Might as well they tell us," he stressed.