Seafood warning

Malau settlement elder Waisea Makulau points at rocks and wood along the Malau outlet allegedly whitened by Tannalith spillage. Picture: LUKE RAWALAI

THE Ministry of Fisheries has cautioned people in Malau and surrounding areas to refrain from consuming seafood in the area after a chemical spillage at the Fiji Forest Industry (FFI) sawmill. Fisheries director Aisake Batibasaga said they were yet to be officially informed by the Ministry of Environment regarding the chemical spill that occurred last week.

Mr Batibasaga said people needed to be wary of seafood harvested in the Malau area after the spillage.

“We need to talk to our people in the North and confirm about the incident, but for now we would like to advise people in the Malau area and surrounding areas to take caution,” he said.

“People should take heed of this advice until further advice from the ministry.”

Yesterday, this newspaper visited the FFI outlet area and witnessed white residue believed to have been caused by the chemical known as Tannalith.

Sharing his personal view, internationally renowned marine scientist Dr Jeremy Prince said with his knowledge of marine systems, the active ingredient in Tannalith, which was creosote, was known to be a long-lasting carcinogen (a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissues).

“I would, of course, be concerned about long-term effects on fish in that area and the potential for contaminants being passed up the food chain to humans who consume fish from that area,” said Dr Prince.

The spillage has prompted calls from Community Centred Conservation (C3) program officer, Maleli Qera, regarding the potential of ciguatera fish poisoning stemming from chemical spillages.

“The worse thing about the poisoning process is that it increases in intensity as it travels along the food chain,” said Mr Qera.

“With flooding from heavy rain experienced today (yesterday), the distribution of the spillage may be extended, more directly affecting the Malau area and other communities in close proximity.”

Earlier, Ministry of Environment’s permanent secretary Joshua Wycliffe told this newspaper that FFI had reported a burst from its Tanalith storage tanks which spilt into the surrounding environment of the facility.

Mr Wycliffe said the distance from the sea to where the chemical tank ruptured was about 200 metres.

He said immediate remedial work reportedly undertaken (apart from containing the spill) included the deposit of sawdust in the contaminated area which was used to soak up contaminated water.

Meanwhile, attempts to get a comment from FFI general manager operations Stephen Clark yesterday were futile.

When contacted for a comment yesterday, Wildlife Conservation Society Fiji director Dr Sangeeta Mangubhai said she could not comment on the issue as she did not have the facts of the incident, adding it was not her field of expertise.

Chairman of the Macuata Qoliqoli Cokavata committee and Tui Macuata Ratu Wiliame Katonivere chose not to comment on the issue as he was not aware of the spillage. |