Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Spot on the Nile

Mohamed Abdel-Baky reports on last week’s oil spill that leaked into the Nile and its possible effects on drinking water

Al-Ahram Weekly

“For years, we have been waiting for drinking water to be delivered to our village. However, we are not ready to drink polluted water. We are humans,” Hamdi Mahmoud, a 36-year-old resident of Aden village in Manfalout, in the Assiut governorate, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

On 27 August, highly flammable Mazut oil from a major electricity power plant in Assiut leaked into the Nile, causing the closure of 13 water stations.

Following the incident, Minister of Environment Khaled Fahmi headed to Assiut to help local officials contain the leakage to prevent it from spreading to other cities along the Nile, especially Al-Minia and Beni Sweif.  

“After discovering the leakage, we closed 13 water stations in Assiut and Al-Minia for lab tests to make sure that the water was not contaminated. All the results came back negative. “The water is free of any pollution,” Fahmi said in a statement.    

He added that the leakage came from the cool water unit at the Al-Hamra electricity station in Assiut. Spokesman of the Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy Mohamed Al-Yamani told the Weekly that the electricity station was to shut down by the end of this year to make way for a new one.

“The station generates 60 Megawatt through three units. The Electricity Holding Company already stopped two of these units 10 months ago and only one was working until we replace the station with three new units by the end of the year,” Al-Yamani added.

According to Assiut Governor Yasser Al-Desuki, the station opened in 1966. Maintenance was supposed to be done in 2011.

To manage the crisis, the Ministry of Environment announced a four-step plan: control the oil spill through the oil pollution combatting centre; test water samples every two hours for the next two weeks, in coordination with the Assiut governorate and the Drinking Water and Sanitation Holding Company; form a technical committee to investigate the accident and hold accountable who was responsible, and also make a decision regarding the re-opening of the closed stations; and provide alternative drinking water resources, using artesian stations, with trucks filled with pure water to be sent to the affected villages.

“The oil spill has not affected the Nile’s water. Water companies will take regular samples to ensure that the water is free of pollution,” Fahmi said.

“No one can be held responsible for the leak until the technical committee completes its work,” Fahmi added in a press conference in Assiut on Sunday.

Ahmed Al-Wakil, head of the Health Directorate in Assiut, said there was no case of poisoning from the water at any hospital in the city.

“Hospital records show no cases affected by the leakage. We have declared a state of emergency at all hospitals,” Al-Wakil said.

Head of the Central Administration for Environmental Crisis Kawthar Hefni said all leakage wastes were removed from the Nile and its surrounding area in which the Mazut oil spilt.

“The spill was 15 metres long, three metres wide and two to five centimetres in depth,” Hefni said. “We used cloth sacks and foam to contain the oil, then used water vacuum tubes to suck it out.”

She added that no chemical materials were used to melt the oil in the water and all the wastes were buried.

Hefni also said the weather had a role in diminishing the oil spill. As the sun shines and the temperature increases, the oil spill shrank and part of it diverted to Al-Ibrahimia Lake.

In Beni Sweif, thousands of people started to store water, concerned that water stations would be closed for lab tests.

It was the second time this year that the Nile was exposed to a leak of hazardous material. A similar case occurred in late April when 510 tonnes of phosphate sank near Qena when a barge transporting the chemical material capsised after crashing into Dandara Bridge. In October 2014 several residents of Sharqiya governorate were poisoned in a similar incident. Officials at the time insisted the governorate’s drinking water was clean.

Nader Noureddin, an expert on water pollution said that to avoid similar crises in the future, all power plants and factories should be built far from the Nile.

“There are national standards under Egyptian laws that govern building such facilities in order to preserve public health and safety, but it seems that the government itself violates these codes and standards,” Noureddin said.

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