The Aug. 15 oil spill on Tortola was contained without any contamination reaching the ocean, according to Philomena Robertson, the information and education manager at the British Virgin Islands Disaster Management Department.
Robertson said Tuesday that the spill appears to have happened when a truck was disposing of waste oil near the sewage pump station. The incident continues under investigation.
The oil spill surfaced at a sewage pump station near the Road Town roundabout. From the pump station it leaked into the drainage system and flowed outwards toward the Crafts Alive Village in Road Town, officials said Aug. 16.
Cecil Jeffrey, a hazardous substances responder at the Disaster Management Department, said the waste oil that spilled into the drain “is highly contaminant and all steps must be taken to ensure that the environmental impact is kept to a minimum. Immediate steps were taken to contain the spill and, in undertaking the cleanup, we have to ensure that all toxic material is removed and there is minimum human contact with these substances.”
According to a press release from the British Virgin Islands government issued Tuesday, results from the samples collected were sent to be tested at the U.S. Coast Guard laboratory in Connecticut. Results are expected in two weeks. Once the results are received, investigators will determine how to proceed and make the necessary recommendations to BVI Cabinet.
The press release indicated work crews were deployed immediately following the spill, first to contain it and then to undertake cleanup operations. The crews worked through the weekend and late Monday night were able to make significant headway, removing the oil, water and highly contaminated sludge. However, inclement weather on Tuesday stalled the cleanup effort, the release said.
What was initially thought to be a quick cleanup evolved into an in-depth operation, given the level of contaminated effluent discovered in the drain, the rising water level due to rainfall and the challenges associated with using heavy equipment in a confined space while ensuring strict adherence to safety procedures, the BVI government said.
The actual cost of the cleanup is still to be determined but additional heavy equipment had to be sourced to mount an effective response, the press release indicated.
Jeffrey said initially one excavator, two sewage pump trucks and two 20-yard trucks were being used.
“We have since brought on an additional excavator, three more sewage pump trucks and five more 20-yard trucks,” he said. “The sewage trucks have been pumping the oil and water from the drain while the remaining sludge is being mixed with soil to create a more solid consistency which is then easier to lift and transport and reduces the risk of leakage onto the streets and human contact.”
The contaminated waste is being disposed of at a secure, designated location, Jeffrey said.
In addition to removing the waste material, the drain is being thoroughly cleaned with the use of power washers to ensure that all traces of contaminants are removed and nothing leaks into the sea when the drain is reopened.
Robertson said according to BVI law, the government can seek to recover the cost of the cleanup from the company deemed responsible for the oil spill.