PORT OF SPAIN –– A Marabella woman and her three children have been treated at the San Fernando Teaching Hospital for benzene poisoning, two months after a Petrotrin slop tank ruptured, spilling hundreds of gallons of slop oil into the Guaracara River.
Up to midday yesterday Wendy Brewster, a prison officer, of Battoo Avenue, remained hooked up to an oxygen tank at Ward 11. During a brief interview, Brewster said she was given a course of antibiotics after doctors told her she was suffering from benzene poisoning. Benzene is a clear, liquid, petroleum-based chemical that has a sweet smell. Benzene poisoning occurs when someone swallows, breathes in, or touches it. Brewster said she fell ill on Friday.
She said: “I started getting problems to breathe. That night I started to feel sick and I couldn’t eat. I fell asleep and that is all I remember. I woke up somewhere else. I was brought here unconscious. The children were later brought here in an ambulance.”
After a series of tests, Brewster said she was diagnosed with benzene poisoning.
“The doctor told me I had a lung and chest infection. I also have an ear infection because of the benzene poisoning.”
She blamed her ailment on the oil spill.
“I am not a smoker or drinker. I didn’t have the virus and I was never sickly before. It is only since the oil spill I got this infection,” she said.
Brewster also said her three children –– Esan Lesley, 21, Zola Lesley, 7, and Zakiya Lesley, 15 –– suffered similar symptoms but were discharged from the hospital. Since the incident, Marabella residents have mobilized into a group and are seeking legal action. The spill in Marabella caused severe discomfort to 200 plus residents and cost Petrotrin at least $5 million.
According to the World Health Organization, benzene is a toxic chemical that occurs naturally in the environment, but is also used by man in a wide range of products. It is a clear, liquid, petroleum-based chemical. Exposure to this chemical can result in a range of side effects, which can be acute or chronic, and can be deadly.
Benzene exposure can result in a number of neurological symptoms, and these include dizziness, drowsiness, headaches and loss of consciousness. Larger doses of the chemical can result in vomiting, dizziness, and convulsion, and can ultimately lead to death. http://www.cleanwaterpartners.org/benzene/health-effects.html
Following the spill in late July, Petrotrin’s president Khalid Hassanali announced the immediate appointment of a local, independent auditor to conduct investigations. The team was mandated to find out why a storage tank at the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery started to leak and why a bund wall which was expected to contain oil spillage from tanks also failed. President general of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), Ancel Roget, said Petrotrin was attempting to cover up its failings to properly maintain the tank by hiding documents.
A report obtained by the OWTU stated in 2010, a visual inspection was conducted and there was “product seepage on eastern end”. The last time the tank was thoroughly inspected was in 1991, he claimed.
Roget added the tank was not designed to hold slop oil (combination of oil, water and others substances) but lube oil. Petrotrin officials said investigations were still ongoing into the leakage and support was still being administered in the affected communities.