Even though environmentalists have warned that the 20 tonnes oil spill along the Ennore coast, near Chennai, is toxic, the port authorities have neither informed people living near the shore of the hazards nor given adequate protective gear to the fishermen and other volunteers who are helping in the cleaning.
The News Minutereported today that the fishermen, who depend on the sea for their livelihood, have been standing waist deep in black sludge all day while using buckets to remove the oil.
Venkatesh, the president of the Ennore Cooperative Society, only wore safety gloves and black boots while volunteering. He is already suffering from irritation in his eyes, TNM reported. Venkatesh also said that the port authorities did not issue any warnings about the dangers posed but encouraged people to join the clean up. "I have developed boils all over my hands as well," he said.
Swetha Narayan, an environmentalist, explained, "The biggest source of toxins is through inhalation and crude oil has benzene, which is a carcinogen."
The oil spill occurred on Saturday morning after an oil tanker collided with a LPG carrier near Ennore port 20km away from Chennai. There have been contradictory statements as to the extent of the oil spill and the damage it poses to marine life.
Scientists have found dangerous levels of hydrocarbon deposits along the coast. India Todayreported that the spill has caused the death of a large number of fish and turtles near Ernarvur beach.The dead turtles belonged to endangered Olive Ridley species.
NDTV also reported that volunteers were working hard to remove pollutants from several beaches including the Marina beach, and they were working without any protective gear. "It smells bad and sticks to our hand, but we are happy to work for the people," Amavasai, a worker, told the news channel.
Port officials say that machinery has failed. "We've tried all kinds of technology and found manual clearing is the only possibility," M.A. Bhaskarachar, Chairman of Kamarajar Port Limited, told NDTV.
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