A doctor has ruled out any possibility of lead poisoning among residents of Thange village in Kibwezi, Makueni County affected by an oil spillage that contaminated water sources.
Dr. Tom Bosire Menge a Chief Toxicologist based at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) assured the residents that the more than 400,000 litres of oil that seeped to River Thange and neighboring water sources from a pipeline managed by the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) does not contain lead and dispelled fears of possible lead poisoning.
Dr. Bosire said the only risk that the residents could have been exposed to following the massive oil spillage was hydrocarbons caused by inhalation of the oil fumes and not through consumption of the contaminated water hence ruling out any serious health complications.
The toxicologist speaking at Thange Primary School during a one-day workshop organized by KPC to sensitize residents on the effects of the oil spillage said hydrocarbon poisoning does not pose any serious health risks apart from respiratory tract infections.
“Hydro carbons are not known to cause any serious harm to humans and in this case it would only result to respiratory tract infections or inflammation of the lungs,” said Dr.Bosire.
However the statements by the Dr. Bosire who had been contracted by KPC perhaps in an attempt to dissuade the villagers from the dangers of the oil spillage were not taken lightly with a majority accusing KPC of planning to shortchange them despite the damaging effects caused by the spillage.
A resident, Martha Kilonzi said the drying of the crops in the affected region and an earlier warning by public health officers not to either use the contaminated water or the farm produce was a clear indication that the effects of the spillage were harmful not only to humans but also crops.
“We were advised not to use the water again and KPC even went ahead to provide us with clean water for domestic use which is a reaffirmation that the water is not safe,”she said.
Martha called for an independent investigation to be done to establish the extent of damage caused.
“The toxicologist has been hired by KPC and we cannot trust him, we need an independent team,” she added.
According to Acting KPC Managing Director, Flora Okoth the company has contracted Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS) Kenya Ltd to carry out independent investigations on the impact of the oil spillage while blood samples of some of the affected residents have been taken to South Africa for testing and proper diagnosis.
The revelations by the doctor that the massive oil would not pose a serious health risk has only served to fuel mistrust between KPC and the residents who now read mischief from the company’s latest move.
“Why can’t KPC wait for the samples from South Africa and issue a comprehensive report?” wondered John Mukai also resident.
According to the National Environment and Management Authority (NEMA) County Director Stephen Kimutu both surface and underground water have been contaminated by the oil spillage making it unfit for human consumption.
Furthermore a report by Water Resources and Management Authority (WARMA) has confirmed that the water in not safe.
The report signed by Noel Ndeti a Senior Water Quality and Pollution Control Officer says in part,
“Based on the observation made on the visit of the site it is evident that both surface and underground water were highly contaminated with petroleum oil as it had taken more than three months for KPC to contain the spillage since it was first noticed.”
It further states,
“ KPC should source for and provide good quality water for domestic use and WARMA will pursue the company to ensure that the environment remediation process almost reinstates the hydrological characteristics of Thange river.”
Last week the Senate Committee on Energy led by Baringo Senator Gideon Moi visited the area and called for a thorough investigation of the incident. It would be interesting to see how KPC will handle the matter that has already created frosty relationships between the company and the affected residents.