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CITMA: The contamination caused by the fire in Matanzas does not compromise human health

incendio-matanzas-16-580x329On August 5, a fire broke out at the Supertanker Base in the city of Matanzas, caused by an electrical discharge in one of the tanks that stored national crude oil. From that moment on, the cloud of smoke and the fuel spill were warning signs for the environment and human beings.

Matanzas is recognized for its natural values. Precisely, the sinister described as the first of this magnitude in the history of Cuba occurred very close to the bay, in an area close to different towns that were seen under the smoke coming from the place of the disaster.

The newspaper Girón spoke with Oscar García Martínez, delegate of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (Citma) in Matanzas, about the environmental impact of this event in the territory and the work that has been carried out to monitor and reduce damage to the environment .

—What were the main damages detected at first from the environmental point of view?

The main damages are to the atmosphere, that is, to the quality of the air, as in any fire. During the days that the fire lasted, we established a work system that allowed us to monitor the main polluting gases. Strong convective activity in the fire caused that plume of smoke to rise. The levels of contaminants measured were low, they do not compromise human health.

“A monitoring network made up of a total of 16 observers and specialists distributed throughout the most vulnerable areas was established, and they informed us every three hours about the state of the environment, if they felt irritation in the eyes, mouth and nose. In addition, the fact that visits to the Primary Health Care system have not increased means that there was no affectation associated with this event. The team, coupled with this, established measurements at five points. The indicators demonstrated compliance with Cuban standards in the environment.

“Another important element is the quality of the water in the bay. From the first moment, barriers were established to prevent a possible spill into the sea. From the second tank, there was a spill that was contained thanks to this measure. In any case, sampling is also carried out in the bay that corroborates from the visual and the contamination that there is no damage right now”.

—Matanzas has experiences regarding the containment of hydrocarbon spills. Did the studies carried out on this subject allow us to react more quickly?

As it is one of the most important provinces in terms of oil extraction and marketing, experience has been acquired from the Civil Defense and it is already known how to act in the face of a phenomenon of this type, according to research by science centers. Although it reached a large scale and we had never experienced a spill associated with a fire, the key is to be able to immediately design the observation points, the ways to control and mitigate this type of event.

—The studies carried out respond to a more immediate stage. Do you intend to develop other research on the long-term effects?

The measures mentioned correspond to the first stage. In this second phase, of recovery, we are going to follow up with another monitoring system that covers aspects related to the soil, agricultural production, traces in the milk of cattle; that is, a series of elements that allow knowing the real magnitude of the impact of the incident. The investigation can last two months.

“Then we are going to do a long-term analysis, we plan to extend it up to two more years with other parameters, to re-evaluate soil, vegetation and food chains. We will use well-designed indicators and a sampling system for the area of ​​the cone of influence of the pollutant cloud”.

—In one of the reports from Citma, they explained that the cloud contained sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, among other substances. Did these concentrations dissipate with his disappearance?

These gases come from combustion, once extinguished the flames go down considerably. Some columns of smoke may still be produced in the area due to the emissions, but now that the danger has passed, the focus that caused the increase of these pollutants into the atmosphere has disappeared, therefore the emissions are in the range in which we are used to living. the Matanzas.

—How do you deal with the population reports? Were people’s testimonials helpful?

Many townspeople joined the network of observers, alerting us if there was any anomaly. There is also a commission by the Citma subgroup of the Defense Council that deals with the situations described. We attend the place, evaluate and recommend how to act. All the cases have been related to the rains. We always warn about the need not to be exposed to it because the waters were loaded with particles that gave a black color. For example, in rural areas such as the Yumurí Valley and Corral Nuevo, the rain left a kind of soot, but it did not cause health consequences or compromise crops or livestock.

—Have acid rains been reported in Matanzas? What is the difference between this phenomenon and that blackish substance detected?

The combination of very high concentrations of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere, together with the occurrence of precipitation, causes acid rain to occur. In that period there were no downpours, rather some drizzles. It is not ruled out that in a specific place it has rained more intensely with a level of acidity higher than normal, but so far we have no reports where the pH of the water is acid. In the case of water with that dark color, it is about suspended particles.

—What is expected for the next few days according to science?

Everything indicates that what happened in the fire stage does not seem to have compromised any aspect for the future. In any case, we continue with the scientific investigations and if we discover something new, we inform it. Next month we will have an environmental impact assessment in which we will explain the most recent results. If any indicator is altered, we will analyze it and follow up on it.

(Taken from Girón Newspaper)


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