In his first statement on the incident which on Tuesday shut down the plant, Singh told reporters at a Cabinet media briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair, that officers of the Water and Sewerage Authority, Environmental Management Authority, National Operations Centre and Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management have been engaged to conduct ground and aerial patrols.
“In addition to increased WASA and EMA patrols along the Caroni River, the National Security Operations Centre is currently conducting aerial patrols,” Singh said. “The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management is also monitoring the situation and will continue to advise citizens in affected areas to be vigilant. If necessary, the police and the army will support the EMA and WASA patrols.”
Singh could give no update on investigations as to what led to an oily substance in the water near to the intake to the plant on Tuesday night. But he would not rule out sabotage, negligence or reckless waste disposal by private persons.
He said destruction to waterways poses a major threat to the national population and aquatic life and any violation to the Environmental Management (EM) Act Chapter 35:05 will be promptly and thoroughly investigated by the Authority.
Singh gave a time-line which disclosed that while WASA, by Wednesday morning had assured customers that the incident had been contained and its water was safe, another incident of chemicals being spotted in the water occurred that afternoon.
“The EMA was alerted about the incident and immediately despatched its Emergency Response and Investigations (ERI) team who investigated the matter. The ERI team scoured areas upriver of the Plant to ascertain the possible source/s of the substance,” Singh said. “While conducting investigations, the EMA’s ERI team, alongside WASA, identified the renewed presence of diesel sheen in the river. This prompted a recommendation to again shut down the Plant at 1pm on Wednesday.”
On Wednesday morning, WASA told customers, “the supply from the plant is safe and meets World Health Organisation standards.” Singh did not state what impact if any, the “renewed presence of diesel sheens” may have had on end-users on Wednesday. He noted the extent of the water network was considerable and suggested monitoring of it was a large task.
The Minister said no chemical disbursants are being used and called on customers to use household products like bleach to clean water tanks if they encounter problems. He said absorption booms were deployed at waterways.
“WASA has advised that all the lines inside the plant have been flushed and they have thoroughly cleaned the clear wells and filters.”
The Minister issued a call to all citizens to conserve water, stating other ongoing works in relation to a blown transformer at the same facility are due to result in further water outages on Sunday, Monday and possibly Tuesday.
“I urge all citizens to conserve water and use your water supply wisely,” Singh said. “This applies to everyone, not only those affected by the Caroni Water Treatment Plant shutdown. Again, I urge all persons especially business places to abide by the Water Pollution Rules so that we can better protect our waterways and by extension the people of Trinidad and Tobago.” The Minister assured that the water quality was good.
“The EMA and WASA both conducted tests at the well that the water is being pulled from for public use,” Singh said. “WASA’s tests were conducted internally at their laboratories and EMA’s tests were conducted at an independent laboratory. The reading as at 6:30pm on Wednesday February 25, 2015, yesterday evening was at 0 milligrams per litre (mg/L) for total
petroleum hydrocarbons. The EMA and WASA will continue to conduct tests along the water course to ensure that the quality of water is suitable at the intake and for intake.” He said operations at the plant restarted at 7pm on Wednesday.
“The water coming from the plant after 7pm last night is safe, and meets World Health Organisation standards,” Singh said. “However, flushing exercises are currently being carried out, in order to eliminate any residue of the substance that may have entered the distribution system.” He said WASA customers served by the Caroni Plant, who may still be experiencing a petroleum like smell in their supply are advised not to use, but allow the supply to run until it clears. Singh also said ninety-eight farmers have applied for licences for water extraction along waterways. There has been no increase in the price for this, he said.