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Opinions of Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Columnist: Anim-Mensah, Alexander

Indiscriminate Upsurge in Petrol/Gasoline Filling Stations....

Indiscriminate Upsurge in Petrol/Gasoline Filling Stations and Drinking Wells/Borehole – Possible Future Consequences

Ghana, in recent times, is quickly developing. New structures are being built: networks of new roads and buildings, both municipal and commercial, are popping up. Individuals and businesses are grabbing every piece of land for their construction works. Malls are springing up everywhere and many different vehicles are parading the roads, ironically, in slow motion fashion due to slow car traffic, lack of more connecting roads and bad nature of some roads.
Despite the above mentioned-development being made, meeting electricity energy and potable water demand, among others, are key stricken issues, goring the nation right now. Inaccessibility to potable water has led many to resort to hand dug wells and boreholes to meet their domestic and/or industrial needs. Of course our very existence is deeply dependent on water which forms greater portion of our body. Thus, water is life and ingesting the right quality dictates one’s quality of life. This need has driven such lucrative businesses as bottled water, sachet, water in tank supplies, etc.
On the energy side, because of the current power rationing the nation is facing, generator usage has become part of the daily life. And running these generators with the increased number of vehicles, has also created a lucrative and large fuel market. As a result, many fuel businesses have sprung up.
My recent travels from Accra to Takoradi and then to Kumasi and finally, back to Accra raised several concerns. These concerns include indiscriminate locations of petrol or gasoline filling stations, overcrowding of the filling stations in some areas, inoperable, abandoned or partially closed filling stations, tightly sandwiched petrol or gasoline filling stations between residences and businesses, land degradations and disappearance of some swamp, lake and rivers. Several pieces of lands had fuel tanks waiting to be buried to start the fuel pumping business.
At other scenarios were some filling stations in close proximity to hand dug wells and bore holes which are meant for domestic and commercial uses. It appears every piece of land was up for grabs irrespective of shape or size. Whether or not there is litigation over the land or it has been demarcated for parks or road; businesses and individuals want them to pump fuel and water, and to construct building for offices and residences. Many crowded vendors parading the roads to sell their various branded bottled and sachet water were also seen at many places.
These fuel and water businesses are thriving. No doubt about that but the fuel business is driving importation of different fuel types from around the world into Ghana for the same purpose. The various imported fuels are however, branded the same from a business perspective. But, the chemical additives or composition depending on the country of origin may be different. This means that all the possible chemicals in the fuel we may not be known to us or we may have no idea of every bit of the chemistry being imported into Ghana. The importers are only interested in the economic attractiveness.
While making petroleum products accessible to Ghanaians to drive vehicles and generators, have we thought about possible consequences of these numerous petrol or gasoline filling stations and imported fuels on our water resources, air and soil and for that matter, the impacts on health? Have we thought about how some of the sandwiched petrol or gasoline filling stations among residences and businesses have impacts on health and possible be associated with huge losses or damages in the event of fire?
One important thing that is also common but usually ignored is residual fuel after fueling, leakages, spills, etc. This also contribute to air, water and soil pollution. Smog are as results of pollutants including petroleum products in air undergoing photochemical reactions with sunlight have effects including difficulty in breathing, asthma, reduced resistance to lung infections, colds, and eye irritation. Moreover, air pollution may leads to DNA damage due to the type of pollutant and cancers from some polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that enters the body through the respiratory system. Moreover, run-offs contaminated in general with residual petroleum products threatens our waterways, groundwater and soil. Note that some of these fuels has octane boosting and chemicals additive including as MTBE, ETBE, isooctane, toluene and tetraethyl lead depending on the country of origin. Tetraethyl lead once a common additive, is progressively being phased-out worldwide, however, it may still be acceptable in some countries. MTBE, ETBE, isooctane, toluene and tetraethyl lead are all known to possess some health hazards.
My greatest concern is the expected pollution from the numerous unspringing petrol or gasoline stations and how owners will handle procedures to prevent pollution - unnecessary spills, leaks, etc will be the order of the day. Another is possible leakages and heavy spills in the event of accidents of bulk transportation on roads, rails and waterways. Are there any cleanup plans and response actions to prevent impacts in events of heavy spills? Imagine the spills and pollutions from all these numerous stations? Note that for petrol or gasoline filling station, pollution can come from the installation, operation, maintenance and especially when station is abandoned without proper closedown procedures. Necessary and stringent measures are required for closing down abandon stations which may be overlooked. My expectation of numerous abandonment of filling stations in the near-future as results of unfavorable economics, hence, a closed down procedure will be required not for corrosion to eat the buried tanks to leak out product to lead to pollution.
Moreover, there are tendencies of filling station owners allowing the tanks and with some contents to rot causing serious pollution problems because of lack of maintenance, hence, owners should be made responsible from beginning to end and defaulters punishable by the law. Hence, a strict and appropriate standards need to be available and adhered to by owners and operators to be on their toes not to pollute our environment and create hazardous areas for the future. Note that clean up procedure for abandoned or closing down stations could be substantial and very necessary. The above concern raises the following questions;
• How does one acquire a licenses to install a filling station and what ministries are involved?
• What standards are in place for making these tanks and how are the welds being inspected?
• How are these numerous buried fuel tanks being monitored of leakages or for integrity over time and how accurate are the methods? Note that the different soil on which these tanks are buried is expected to contribute to different corrosion rates, hence, different maintenance frequency, possibly the methods since there may be disparity in some soil physical and chemicals properties.
• Which people have the right to manufacture these buried tanks and according to what standards?
• Who has the license to operate a petrol or gasoline filling station?
• How often should these fuel buried tanks be monitored of leakages?
• How often will the different areas having different soil chemistry and different propensity to corrode be factored in the maintenance program?
• Are the necessary professionals involved when a filling station is being installed, operated and maintained?
• Similar to pharmacies having pharmacists should these petrol or gasoline filling stations be assigned with engineers, environmentalist, etc to safeguard activities?
• Who ensures that the installation, operation, maintenance, abandonment and closedown procedures are safe? Several stations have folded up and there seems to be no procedure to clean the mess.
• What time elapse is a filling station not in operation considered abandoned to trigger the necessary closedown procedures?
• Why is Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) not in constant operation to supply consistent fuel with known additives, chemistry, and known possible pollutants? Is TOR not having up-to-date technologies to make the economics favorable or the production rate is low not to meet the demands? Why are not investing in TOR? Or is it bad decision-making, mismanagement and unnecessary loses at TOR promoting the importation of fuel into Ghana?
• Who ensures the water from the numerous boreholes and wells as well as the bottled and sachet water are safe for drinking?
• How are Ghanaians alarmed in the event of upsurge in pollution and contaminants in the air, water and soil?
• In the event of buried tanks leakages how are the pollutants going to be detected not to threaten lives i.e. water, air and soil pollution?
• How are these filling stations and bore holes/hand dug wells regulated? Which ministries are in charge and how confident are they to handle and inform Ghana of consequence on a timely manner?
• What will happen to residences sandwiching these filling stations in the event of fire outbreak? Is the fire service equipped and trained sufficiently? Does fire service department have the equipment and manpower to fight multiple fires?
• Are there no set rules for distance between these filling stations and residences and businesses? Are there no areas demarcated for residence and business/industrial activities? How did the filling station get in between residences?
• Are we playing with our lives as the expense of money?
• How are the risk and consequences being assessed?
• Which bodies are working together to ensure safe environment for Ghanaians?
• Are we creating more problems for the future generations because of today’s stomach and negligence?
Ghanaians or Africans as a whole, have the natural tendency to neglect only to blame consequences on someone else or the devil for any eventuality in our lives. We rather need to consider a higher factor of safety and measures to dim risks and accident occurrences. Note that our neglect today means paying huge future prices and consequences tomorrow. One cannot say s/he does not care, however, it is a sure thing to be affected directly or indirectly. Why create a situation for someone knowingly of the future consequences.
CERCLA/Super fund programs in the USA were established to clean up polluted sites with the potential of causing harm to lives. “CERCLA meaning Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act commonly known as Superfund, was enacted by the USA Congress on December 11, 1980. This law created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries and provided broad Federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment. Over five years, $1.6 billion was collected and the tax went to a trust fund for cleaning up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites”
Will Ghana vote huge sums of money to execute the same clean up exercises in case of future serious health issues from today’s negligence and ignorance? Where will that money come from? If yes, will that huge sums even get down to the grounds to get the work done? Will Ghana have money to deal with possible epidemics tomorrow related to our actions today? Our plan has always been to call on the develop nations after creating have our own problems knowingly, through negligence and greed. One should not say “I do not care” for you will care when the consequences starts knocking. One should be mindful of actions and be responsible; it is by so doing will most problems plaguing Ghana be solved.
While making fuel accessible to Ghanaians anywhere we should be mindful of the consequences, develop reliable and robust systems to deal with foreseeable consequences, and try not to cut corners – it will catch up with the system someday. In my view, I will humbly request if a team of different professions including environmental, chemical, safety, civil, geologist, planers, etc. be put together to review the existing procedures for gaps. It is worth mentioning the use of both fundamental and total loss control approaches to develop reliable and robust systems to safeguard Ghanaians. Moreover, there are lots of free information available online which anyone can read.
Upspring of businesses are excellent for economic growth, however, care should be taken to dim risks low associated consequences. I do not mean to step on big toes but only to draw awareness on what could present future problems, however, the big toe needs to assess possible issues to trigger contingent plans for adverse. I know it is easier to point out problems than solutions while not sitting in the driver’s seat, it all our stakes to make our existence bearable. Let us note the above and put in the appropriate measures. A step to provide solutions starts with accepting that there are issues which the solution requires identification of the issues. I will say let be responsible and develop sustainably.
The GOIL incident is a tragedy and I sympathize with the families of the victims, however, it is a wakeup call on negligence and ignorance in the system. It is worth to point out that air, water, and soil pollution, however, slow are associated with effects that could cause astronomical deaths and ill-health if better strategies are not instituted to prevent consequences. Moreover, some of the shoddily built filling stations and those not well located possess in themselves hazards similar to the GOIL incident which can erupt anytime given the necessary conditions. Finally, one of survival of the GOIL incident almost blind managed to get home only to resurface on Peace FM the next day to solicit for medical treatment assistance. Thanks to Peace FM’s support. Situations like this on a survival will call for a faster medical interventions, delaying may possess risk to victims.
This calls for proper emergency plan and awareness. Knowing that rains, floods and others are inevitable some periods of the year there should be hotlines for victims to call for assistance. The high hotline operation costs could partly drive proactiveness and sustainability in our development. The world will be safer with good plans and intentions.

God bless

Alexander Anim-Mensah, PhD (ChE)
Dayton Ohio

Who owns GOIL? Ghana or individually?