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Fuel leakage from O.R. Tambo International Airport
Thursday, November 16, 2006 | 00:00

As you are aware, a fuel leakage occurred at O.R. Tambo International during the early hours of 7 November 2006 and an estimated 1,2 million litres of fuel were lost. (The exact quantity of lost fuel still has to be confi rmed). Engineers worked tirelessly to recover as much of the fuel as possible for safe disposal, and to date they have recovered about 560 000 litres.

Although the majority of the spilled fuel was contained by a retention pond, regrettably some of the fuel went into the rain water system that leads to Blaauwpan Dam. At the time when the incident was reported, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality (EMM), various Government departments and Non-Government Organisations responded swiftly to minimise the impact on the local community and the environment. The health and safety of the community and the wellbeing of the environment remain our priority.

ACSA immediately deployed geo-hydrologists, ecologists, emergency services, disaster management and environmental practitioners to commence with decontamination and remedial work in order to minimise the impact on ground and water resources. As part of the remedial work, the dam was elevated, separator dykes and booms were constructed to recover the fuel upstream ahead of the inlet into the dam. An absorbent material applied to the water will recover the fuel and will also suppress the vapours.

ACSA is co-operating with the authorities to establish the cause of the spill. A task team has been established, consisting of members of my staff and representatives from the relevant government departments at both a local, provincial and national level (Water Affairs; Agriculture, Environment and Tourism); as well as representatives from the EMM.

The EMM has conducted tests and confi rmed that the spilled fuel gives off vapours – such as toluene and xylene – which have a strong odour. The authorities further confi rmed that the fumes pose no medium to long-term health risks. Authorities are monitoring the levels of these vapours on an ongoing basis. There has since been a signifi cant reduction in fumes arising from the application of the absorbent which is also serving as a suppressant to the vapours.

While the levels of these chemicals in the air and water are currently higher than normal, authorities are satisfi ed that the levels are well within environmental health limits and pose no medium or long-term health risk. No levels of benzene have been recorded. Due to the strong odour, some discomfort might be experienced by local residents. Residents are advised to stay in well-ventilated areas, by opening windows on the downwind side. The odour will continue to dissipate until all the spilled fuels have been removed. Both ACSA and Authorities have taken independent water samples, at the source of the spillage and at boreholes surrounding the Blaauwpan Dam. Should the results of the samples obtained detect any chemical components which are in exceedance to the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry’s minimum requirements and standards, then necessary precautionary measures would be taken to advise residents on the status of groundwater. Continuous monitoring will be undertaken until the risk has been eliminated.

Residents surrounding Blaauwpan Dam who rely solely on borehole water should contact Jan Bodenstein from Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality Environmental Health on phone number 082 302 0469. Residents and visitors will not be able to access the Blaauwpan Dam until further notice. People who might be feeling any physical discomfort as result of the fumes are advised to call the following emergency numbers 10177 and 458 0911.

On behalf of the task team, I would like to extend my deepest and sincere thanks to the emergency services, the local community and volunteers who assisted birds and other animals at risk, as well as my staff who have worked tirelessly in the past few days. Your efforts and commitment are most appreciated. We will make every effort to keep you informed on progress with the clean-up programme, as well as on the measures that ACSA and our fuel suppliers are taking to reduce the risk of such an incident occurring in the future.

Chris Hlekane
General Manager: O.R. Tambo International Airport
Airports Company South Africa

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