Firestone Pollutes Over 3,000 Liberians’ Lives;Endangers Thousands More Lives

 

By: Nat Nyuan-Bayjay, interlink2004@yahoo.com (231-6-402737) 

Once drinking water;'Ni-Pu'(Pure Water) now turns 'Ni-Kpee'(Black Water)

Once drinking water;'Ni-Pu'(Pure Water) now turns 'Ni-Kpee'(Black Water)

The Firestone Rubber Plantations, Liberia’s largest plantations and formerly the world’s largest rubber plantations, located in Margibi County is currently endangering the lives of over 3,000 residents of the Kparyah’s Town and its surrounding towns and villages as well as posing potential threats to thousands more Liberians who, in one way or another, are surviving by the Mesurrado River popularly known as the Du River.

This is because of the great hazardous and serious health problems that its newly constructed water treatment facility possesses which is causing the contamination of three creeks that supply drinking water to six towns and villages located within the Plantations. The six towns and villages are just within less than 10 minutes drive from Harbel—the location of Firestone main factories and offices—and they include Kparyah’s Town, Brown’s Town, Mazoe’s Town, Kongba’s Town, Yeatoe Brown’s Town & Victory Outreach Town . the six towns and villages are located between Divisions 44 and 45 of the Firestone Rubber Plantations Company.

During a recent visit to the affected region, I could  vividly see that the lives of the residents and villagers of the six affected towns and villages are at serious risks as the streams and creeks from which they obtained drinking water from have all turned black (as seen in the photos) and are no longer safe for human consumption. My tour of the creeks and streams show very clearly the dangers being posed by Firestone’s waste site which the Company constructed in August of last year.

For instance, the Vah Creek which supplied drinking water to the residents of Karnyah’s Town has not only become very black but gives out very offensive odor which upon approaching the creek makes one to feel like vomiting. The Ni-Pu Wein Creek was where the residents of Mazoe’s Town used to fetch drinking water from but now looks like a layer of ‘coal-tar’. As a matter of fact, the residents might just be forced now to rename ‘Ni-Pu’ (which means pure or clear water in the Bassa vernacular due to its crystal clearness and purity) to another name ‘Ni-Kpee’ (meaning dark or black water because of its current status).   

As a result of the contamination, the Ni-Pu, Vah and Yor Creeks which are all tributaries of the Du River (as the Mesurrado River is popularly called) are contaminated, thereby putting thousands more who live and survive by the lengthy banks of the Du River at risk as well. This simply means that both Margibi and Montserrado Counties are being infested since the Du River travels through the two counties before entering into the Atlantic Ocean in Monrovia.

“Firestone Is Making Our Lives Hard”

An artificial lake formed by the polluted water

An artificial lake formed by the polluted water

I was told by residents that Firestone is making their lives very difficult by the pollution or contamination of their creeks.  They spoke of traveling very long distances to get safe drinking water as the single hand-pump constructed by the Company is not doing any do. The residents also spoke of Firestone doing absolutely nothing about their plight but constructed just a single hand-pump in just one of the six affected towns and villages.

Choosing Kparyah’s Town to be the one that could get the hand-pump probably as an initial step, the other five towns and villages got none while the Kparyah’s Town residents complained of the hand-pump being very much extraneous to solving their problems.

“The hand-pump they built over there is not doing us any good”, said old man James Seetoe, an elder of Kparyah’s Town as he pointed towards the single hand-pump constructed by Firestone. “The water from it is very salty,” he continued.

“What hurts is Firestone wrote on the pump ‘Donated’ as if they were donating this hand-pump to us. This is not any donation because they have spoiled all of our drinking creeks around here”, lamented the youth leader of Kparyah’s Town Sam Gaye.

At the same time, some women in neighboring Mazoe’s Town spoke of traveling as far Carter Camp to get water which is about two miles away. “The well we dug here is not good for drinking anymore. It can taste like you drinking something fresh and it never used to taste like this before”, complained a lady. This may be an implication that the soils in all of the surrounding villages next to the contaminated creeks and rivers are being affected by what they fear might be from the chemicals in the rivers or creeks.

Residents also disclosed to me that one of their colleagues died as a result of the pollution. They claimed that Tango, a popular fisherman died after he complained of drinking from a contaminated creek not knowing that it had been tempered with. The residents later discovered, according to them, that the stream from which he drank had been heavily populated.

“Twenty-Nine Harmful Chemicals in Our Drinking Water”

One of the residents of Kparyah’s Town alleged that Firestone is infested their creeks and streams with 29 different, harmful chemicals which are used in the processing of the rubber at the company’s washing plant. Solomon Toe who claimed to have worked for the company for an unbroken 19 years and was later laid-off, there are 30 chemicals used but one of them is not harmful and can be consumed by humans. He listed them as follows: ammonium sulfate, sulfuric acid (98 %), potassium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, barium hydroxide, potassium hydnfen phtlfate, oxalic acid, benzoyl peroxide, zinc oxide, T.N.T.D, nitroxide, eltsrel, pommel red, yellow inmoxide, redomil, luric acid, formalin acid, D.A.P, beef extm, yeast extm, naclia, B-Pepton, B-B-L Cactoes, indsitol,  dextrose, sodium thiosulfate, iron citrate, and agar granulated.  

 

Futile Efforts

Residents of the six towns and villages said all efforts exhausted by them to have the management of Firestone engaged constructively have proven futile. “Besides telling Firestone about our plight which is being ignored, we got to our law makers and superintendent. They have come here and promised to do something about this. But up to now, we continue to suffer from this”, explained Sam Gaye, youth leader of Kparyah’s Town.

Residents spoke of numerous visitations from various groupings including the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA), the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), among others. “But when they leave, we see nothing happening”, said an angry Levi Gaye who is regarded as the secretary of Kparyah’s Town.

“If it was not for Oxfam GB who built the other hand-pump for us, then we were going to be suffering even more than this or like the people in Ma Zoe Town who can go to Carter Camp to get drinking water”, noted Solomon Toe who is  also an advisor in town.

 

Firestone’s “State-of-The-Art” Multimillion Dollar Water Treatment Site

Some of the six pipes with openings out of which black liquid pours continually

Some of the six pipes with openings out of which black liquid pours continually

Having accessed the affected towns and villages and their immediate damaged and contaminated creeks and rivers, I  continued my toure as guided by some villagers deep into the rubber plantations where the source of the pollution and contamination come from. One can hardly reach within a few feet of the site when very offensive and humiliating odor that engulfs the vicinity begins to hit the nostril of any approaching person very hard to the extent that he or she becomes compel to ‘hold his or her nose’ in order to at least reduce the awful smell that emanates out of the site. This was exactly the case as I approached the site where the multi-million dollar rubber company installed what it referred to as its new “state-of-the-art” water treatment facility—a cost Firestone puts at millions of dollars according to a press release.

There are six pipes with openings out of which black liquid pours continually. The six pipes are being supplied by a long pipe that surfaces from beneath the earth and has several openings, thus leading to a large pool of water being formed in the form of a lake. It was reliably learnt that the constructors of the pipeline dug out the ‘artificial’ lake that contains the polluted and contaminated liquid which oozes out of the pipe, forms into the lake, and subsequently supplied via the six pipes to the Ni-Pu Wein Creek which in return supplies the rest of the surrounding rivers and creeks from which over 3,000 residents drank, bathed and found other forms of livelihoods such as fishing, among others.

Firestone’s Tactics To Avoid Interview

All sacrificial efforts  to get the management of Firestone’s comment on the matter were all wasted, as all I could get was a two-paragraph press release from the Company despite a continued, patient and persistent effort of being granted an interview. Having spent over four hours in the office of the public relations officer who employed all necessary tactics to avoid a one-on-one interview, the press release was later given to at least ‘compliment’ for the over four hours spent.

Mr. Rufus Karmoh refused to further comment on any question pertaining to the environmental issue at stake that endangers the lives of thousands of Liberians. All he could say was: “Nat, please just take the Company’s position on the matter from what is written on that press release. That is Firestone’s position on the matter. I reserve all other comments”, much to my annoyance after I had sat in his office from 8:30 Am to 11:30 Am on Friday morning May 15, awaiting for what seems to be an endless meeting to come to an end after with hope of getting answers or if possible, being transferred to talk directly with Firestone Management.

With the title “Statement on Firestone Liberia’s Environmental Practices”, Firestone boosted of what she described as modern new “state-of-the-art” water treatment facility in its press release that processes water from its factory through equalization and clarification tanks and into constructed wetlands on the Company’s property for “natural and biological treatment”. Firestone further describes its water facility site as “unparalleled in Liberia”, stating that one Dr. Robert Knight who is regarded as a foremost environmental wetland expert in the world and the EPA contributing towards the development of the water facility.

But what is worth pondering over is whether the identical water treatment site that was seen and accessed by my trip is what Firestone refers to as  modern “state-of-the-art” water treatment facility.

 

Funds Diverted For Recycling Plant?

An employee who chose anonymity and claimed to work within the factory revealed to me that millions of dollars were indeed allotted for a modern water treatment installation to be built that could recycle the liquid used for the processing of rubber from the factory. But according to our source, some group of technicians and engineers within the employ of Firestone decided to build a cheaper one without any regard to the health of others for their own personal selfish reasons.

“We work in that technical area. The initial plan for that water facility was for it to be recycled, as is being done in the States. The money came but they ate all. According to the plan the water was to come from the plant, goes through the pipe to be treated and it comes back to the plant. But my brother the people here feel that they can do anything at anytime in this country and nothing can come out of it. That plant was to be a recycling plant but they feel that they can take it and send it to another group of people”, our source continued. “You think why they took it from Farmington? It is because the people there caused so much noise and thank God for you people from the media who were always publishing it in the various newspapers and on the various radio stations”.

There had been public outcry by people in the Owensgrove area where Firestone initially had these water facilities that were affected both the marine lives of the Farmington River and the immediate inhabitants of the river. But while relief was being provided residents of the then affected people in the Owensgrove area along the Farmington River, another group of people, this time in the Divisions 44 and 43 of the Firestone Plantations itself, are being burdened by the pollution.

EPA’s Reaction

Mr. Jerome Nyenka, Assistant Executive Director of the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) via mobile phone told me that  after several complains to the Agency, it is investigating the issue of pollution as “allegedly caused” by Firestone.

“When the complaints came last August, at which time the pollution was not too bad we asked Firestone to provide quality control analysis data for their waste. We also asked the Company to provide pesticide for surrounding villages, but Firestone did not do any of what we asked up to the time of the second complaint reaching us.  When the second complaint came in the second week of last month, EPA and Water and Sewer experts as well as environmentalists from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) took sample of the water for testing and once our investigation is completed, we are going to take firm action against Firestone”, Mr. Nyenka said.

“But we need to know the extent of the pollution in order to act because according to Article 51.5 of the environmental laws anyone who contaminates any water body that is unhealthy will be fined US$ 50,000.00 and a jail sentence of not less than twenty years”, he continued.

When asked as to whether the polluted water has the propensity of affecting wells and hand pumps, he answered: “This is why we have taken sample of the water to the laboratory for testing because it is most likely to affect wells and hand pumps”.  

Mr. Nyenka stressed that EPA is concerned, troubled and worried over the lives of citizens dwelling in the six surrounding villages that are affected from the pollution. “We are coming up with our findings in the shortest possible time”. But the Assistant Executive Director who is also acting could not be specified as to how soon the public should expect the findings.

Commenting on if Firestone would be jailed if they are found guilty, he said “Oh, yes Firestone will be jailed if found guilty. That’s why we are taking our own time in dealing with this situation.”

The Acting Director made this statement in response to a question posed by Front Page Africa as to whether the EPA would follow directly the Agency’s regulatory rule of Part Five, Section 51-1 which stipulates that if an individual or any entity is found guilty of polluting an environment that endangers the health of a group of people as well as destroying the inhabitants of marine co-system. This section mentions that there shall be no impunity, stating that whoever is found guilty shall be convicted and fined an amount not exceeding US$50,000 and a jail sentence not exceeding 20 years or both. Part Five, Section 51-1 further stresses that said affected or polluted environment should be restored to an appreciable level to be approved by the EPA.

But what many pundits and ordinary Liberians are doubting is whether indeed this law will be applied if and only if the multi-million dollar rubber company that has been reported to be so influential in a country that she signed 99 years of contract with will ever made to face this fine and penalty if found ever guilty.

“We Can’t Beat Firestone’s Butt”—Authorities’ Response

When authorities from those representing the people of the affected region were contacted for comments on the matter, they all responded in a manner that suggestive of them being “fed up” with the entire episode. As a matter of fact, Representative Saah Gbollie in whose area the affected towns and villages are directly situated answered in a rather angry mood: “My brother, everything the people in that area told you is true. We have talked with Firestone and are getting tired”.

Asked as to what strategies he may be anticipating to help alleviate his people off this serious health problem, he said: “We can’t beat Firestone’s butt. They are seriously affecting our people”.

The Single Hand-Pump from Firestone

The Single Hand-Pump from Firestone

As for Superintendent Levi Piah, superintendent of Margibi County, the issue had been put before Firestone Management but with nothing being done he was left with no other option rather than invite the EPA into the matter.

Threatened Action

Meanwhile, the affected residents of the six towns and villages have threatened to do anything they feel will bring relief to them from this pollution and contamination which they said have disrupted their every form of livelihood obtained initially from the now infested creeks, streams and rivers. “If no one can come to our aid, we will just do anything we can to help ourselves out of this condition because everyday some people will come here to see the problem but we are getting no help. It looks like everyone is afraid of Firestone. But we are not scared of them,” threatened some youths of Kparyah’s and Mazoe’s Towns.

In 1926, the then Firestone Tire & Rubber Company leased 1,600 square miles of jungle in Liberia, with the goal of producing its own rubber. Today, Firestone Liberia operates on an area of land with close to 8 million rubber trees planted on 200 square miles at its Harbel location, some 40 miles from the Liberian capital Monrovia.

-END-

 

 

The main supply pipe from the factory

The main supply pipe from the factory

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One Response to “Firestone Pollutes Over 3,000 Liberians’ Lives;Endangers Thousands More Lives”

  1. Great reporting and nice images brother. Congrats on graduation by the way!

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