06 March 2012

Water Contamination by Diesel in Miri, Sarawak

Dear Reader

The best business you could start in Miri today, is selling bottled water! People are desperate for drinking water right now because the drinking water supply has been contaminated by a diesel spill -- 14,000 liters of diesel, to be exact. On the 6th of March 2012, the New Straits Times reported:
MIRI: REPORTS of people doing extreme things when they had no water for more than 12 hours on Sunday, due to  diesel contaminating  the city's main source of drinking water, are making the rounds here. "People were using Coke and 7-Up to wash themselves after going to the toilet. One of my friends told me she used 100 Plus to brush her teeth last night," housewife Sue Abdullah said yesterday.

... Assistant Minister for Communication and Senadin assemblyman Datuk Lee Kim Shin, ..., said 300,000 people here were affected by the disruption. Lee added: "It is, however, safe for drinking and cooking." Northern Sarawak Water Board (Laku) general manager Lo Su Onn said his staff had tested the water."We even drank the water to be certain it was safe before we started resuming the supply." The city's water treatment plant at Lambir, which shut down at 8.30pm on Saturday, resumed operation late Sunday night after a clean up of Sungai Liku by teams from Sarawak Shell Bhd and Petronas.Rela members with their boats were drafted in to help clean up the estimated 14,000 litres of diesel that had spilled into the river from a ruptured skid tank, belonging to a road construction company, 2km from the treatment plant. In Kuching, Second Minister of Resource Planning and Environment Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hassan said: "If there is negligence, action will be taken."

(Source: New Straits Times, 'Diesel smelling water' in Miri. 6th March 2012. URL: http://www.nst.com.my/local/general/diesel-smelling-water-in-miri-1.56252)

300,000 people affected

300,000 people are affected by 14,000 liters of diesel that poured into Sungai Liku in Sarawak.The big question is how does 14,000 liters get into a river and not be detected immediately? Apparently part of the answer to this conundrum is that, the spillage started on a Saturday, and continued on Sunday, and because it was a weekend, nobody was around to check.

On 5th March 2012, the Borneo Post reported:
MIRI: Lebih 300,000 penduduk di bandar raya Miri dan Daerah Bekenu semalam terjejas bekalan air bersih selepas sumber air di Sungai Liku tercemar oleh tumpahan minyak diesel daripada tangki simpanan minyak sebuah syarikat swasta yang terletak dua kilometer dari sungai tersebut. Dianggarkan, sejumlah 14,000 liter minyak diesel yang digunakan untuk proses penurapan jalan yang disimpan di dalam tangki milik syarikat berkenaan, tumpah ke tanah dan seterusnya mengalir ke Sungai Liku, selepas saluran tangki tersebut bocor dan tidak disedari oleh para pekerjanya. Pengurus LAKU Management Sdn Bhd (LAKU) Kawasan Miri, Lo Su Onn yang ditemui di Loji Perawatan Air LAKU di Lambir semalam memberitahu, pencemaran itu disedari oleh pekerja loji berkenaan pada jam 8.30 malam kelmarin apabila terhidu bau diesel yang kuat dari kawasan pengambilan air.Sebaik menyedari terdapatnya tumpahan minyak, kakitangan yang bertanggungjawab menyelenggara loji ketika itu bertindak menutup operasi loji serta-merta bagi mengelak air yang telah tercemar terus memasuki kawasan penapisan dan rawatan.

“Pihak kami mula mencari punca pencemaran awal pagi tadi (semalam) dan mendapati punca tumpahan adalah daripada sebuah syarikat membuat tar jalan. Serentak itu, kita memaklumkan kepada pasukan bertindak mengenai tumpahan minyak untuk mendapatkan bantuan segera,” katanya. “Sekarang (pagi semalam) kita bergantung kepada sumber bekalan air yang sudah dirawat di loji tangki simpanan sedia ada untuk membekalkan air kepada penduduk Miri. “Namun, jumlah air bersih yang disimpan di tangki berkenaan agak terhad. Ia menyebabkan kita terpaksa mengurangkan penyaluran air untuk penduduk di bandar raya Miri mulai tengah hari supaya bekalan air tidak putus,” katanya.

Bagaimanapun, menurut Lo, bukan mudah bagi pihaknya membersihkan pencemaran itu kerana tumpahan minyak terbabit sudah meresap ke dalam tanah dan mengalir di sepanjang sungai tersebut. LAKU, katanya, terpaksa mengepam air dari Sungai Bakong untuk disalurkan ke Sungai Liku bagi membersihkan tumpahan minyak di sepanjang kawasan hulu sungai berkenaan. ...

Dalam pada itu, penduduk di Miri mulai mengalami ketiadaan bekalan air bersih sekitar jam 1 petang semalam, sekali gus menyebabkan ramai penduduk terpaksa membeli air mineral yang dibotolkan. Berita ketiadaan air yang diuar-uarkan menerusi laman sosial, media elektronik telah menyebabkan pembelian panik air mineral yang dibotolkan, sehingga barisan panjang di beberapa buah pasar raya.

Tinjauan Utusan Borneo turut mendapati beberapa buah premis kecil dan pasar raya telah kehabisan stok air mineral. Di kawasan Pujut 7, air mineral dijual di tepi jalan seperti menjual buah durian sehingga menimbulkan kesesakan jalan raya kerana diserbu orang ramai.
(Source: The Borneo Post, Pencemaran Air, Miri Terjejas. 5th March 2012. URL: http://www.theborneopost.com/2012/03/05/pencemaran-air-miri-terjejas/)

For those of you that don't read Malay, here are some of the highlights of the article:
  • The 14,000 liters of diesel were used for road tarring purposes. (Really? Have to check that out)
  • LAKU Management Sdn Bhd manager Lo Su Onn realised that there was water contamination at about 8.30pm on the night it occurred. An employee smelt the smell of diesel.
  • Operations at the water processing plant were halted immediately after the discovery to avoid contaminating the drinking water supply for domestic use.
  • The water processing plant had to rely on its reservoir, but supply of water had to be reduced as there wasn't sufficient water to supply.
  • It is not an easy task to clean up the diesel contamination as the oil had already soaked into the soil and had entered Sungai Liku. Water is being diverted from Sungai Bakong to Sungai Liku to help clean up the river.
  • The public went into panic mode and started buying mineral water. News of water scarcity, spread by social media, caused water buying panic and long queues at supermarkets. Even small malls were out of stock and in Pujut 7, mineral water sold by the road side was snapped up like durians, causing traffic jams.

Photos on Facebook

A Facebook group claiming to represent Sarawakians has posted up photos related to the Miri diesel spill. It must be noted, these seem to be posted by the opposition party in Sarawak.
  • Photo of an oil spill in general, without reference to Sungai Liku
  • Screen Capture of website for Cahya Mata Sarawak (translated as the "Child of Sarawak") , specifically Group Deputy Chairman, Dato Sri Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib
  • Screen Capture of website for CMS Premix Sdn Bhd, apparently Sarawak's leading producer of ashphaltic concrete (premix) and bituminous emulsion (emulsion).
  • Photo of Sarawakians at the site of the spill
  • Another photo of Sarawakians at the site of the spill
  • A photo of mineral water being sold from a lorry at Pujut 7
  • Photo of members of public at the site.
  • Photo of cleaning work in progress.
  • Photo of shipping containers that are used to store diesel
  • Photo of shopping cart full of mineral water bottles
  • Photo of another shopping cart full of mineral water bottles
  • Photo of diesel spilt on the soil

Possible Negligence ... and Court Case?

On 6th March 2012, the Department of Environment (DOE) was reported to have found possible negligence in their investigation of the water contamination. Here is an excerpt:
DOE enforcement chief for northern Sarawak Siva Nathiran said more than 14,000 litres of diesel-bitumen had leaked into Sungai Liku due to two serious factors. “The leak happened so extensively because it went undetected from Saturday night to Sunday morning as there were no workers at that time because it was a weekend. 

“The leakage happened at a part of the pipeline where there was a joint. The piping gave way because the joint was connected by a rubber hose which had burst. The joint-connection should have been sealed with a stronger material, not just a rubber hose. All these points to the possibility of negligence. We are now preparing our investigation papers and to file the case in court,” he said yesterday.

The diesel-bitumen leakage into Sungai Liku caused massive water supply in the city (?) for more than 24 hours due to the shutdown of the Lambir Water Treatment Plant to prevent the contaminants from entering the piped-water system. Sungai Liku is the source of the raw water for the treatment plant, which processes 125 million litres of water for the entire dis­trict of Miri.

Siva said the DOE had deployed its investigating team to the site, stating that it might take up to a week to clear the spillage on the land. As for the oil leakage in Sungai Liku, he said 44 drums of contaminants had been extracted from the river so far. “The river water is almost cleaned up. There are booms being put in place to stop the contaminated water from flowing. “However, there is still a thin layer of contaminants on the surface. It should be cleared away soon,” said Siva. He added that the premix plant management and its contractor were in the midst of “cleaning up the mess”.

(Source: The Star Online, Oil Spill Points To Negligence. 6th March 2012. URL: http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2012/3/6/nation/10862380&sec=nation)

I don't understand the phrase "caused massive water supply in the city". How does a leakage cause massive water supply?

I hope the court case will take place soon. From experience, oil will dehydrate and reduce in volume over time. By the time the court case is heard, "44 drums of contaminants" could be half-empty, if they are not properly sealed.

Here are some Photos of bituminous emulsion at Google Images.

Further Reading

Here are some other articles about the incident.