From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
These are not the best of times for residents of Ajokaka area in Eleta Estate, Elebu, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. For more than one week, the major sources of water in the community, including wells and streams, have been producing water that is heavily contaminated with petroleum products.
A visit to the community revealed that life has not been easy for residents of about 10 houses confirmed to be affected by the water contamination. They have been having gruelling experiences in getting water for bathing, cooking, drinking and washing.
This reporter, however, asked the available residents of the affected houses to draw water from the well for him to see. Indeed, the liquid fetched from the two wells in the Oremeji Compound was more than 80 to 90 per cent petrol. A sample of the water that was poured into a nearby bush caught fire in a mini explosive manner when it was ignited.
A stream in the community has also been contaminated. Petroleum products were found on the surface of the water as it flows in the stream. It was observed that the contamination has affected the aquatic life in the water, as dead fishes and crabs were seen floating on the water.
A resident of the community, Mr. Oluwafemi Ale, a refrigerator technician, told this reporter that he has been living in the community for more than 18 years and Eleta Estate has never witnessed such disaster. He said the bizarre incident was strange to them.
“The well in my house is filled with petrol. The petrol has contaminated the water to the extent that if the petrol content of the liquid in my well is not 90 per cent, it would not be less than 80 per cent. The problem started in the last week of October. On October 27th and 28th, we still drew water from the well that we drank. But on October 28th, we could perceive the odour of petrol in the water. We drank it like that in my house.
“But by the morning of Thursday October 28th, the water that we fetched from the well was heavily contaminated. The colour was black, which made some people think it is crude oil. So, the news went viral on the social media that crude oil has been discovered in our wells in this community.
“Before the contamination of water in our wells, we used to drink water from the well. We also used it for cooking, washing and bathing. In fact, we used the water for everything. But things have changed now. We cannot use the water in our well. We are not even sure what would happen to those of us that have drunk from the water from the well, when the contamination was not heavy like this. We are afraid of the health implications of drinking such water.
“Now, we cannot cook in our kitchen because our kitchen is beside the well, that is contaminated by petrol. We lock our wells all the time, as part of measures to prevent fire outbreak.”
Another resident of the community, Olatunji Owolabi, who introduced himself as an embedded system engineer, said: “My two daughters were having their bath in the house, then they called my attention that they could perceive the odour of petrol in the water. I thought they were joking. I dismissed what they said and ordered them to take their bath on time. Later, I was thirsty and I drank from the water. What I noticed was that on the second day, almost throughout the day. I had something like kerosene breath. All day, I had a slight headache.”
But how do the residents of the community get water that they have been using in their houses since the problem began? Both Ale and Owolabi said they have been going to neighbouring community to fetch water for their domestic use.
Area boys attempt to scoop fuel
Prior to the visit of this reporter to the community, some ‘area boys’ reportedly stormed the community in search of “fuel that was discovered in the community.”
According to Ale and Owolabi, the boys were up to 30 in number and they threatened fire and brimstone against anyone that dared to stop them from scooping the petrol from the wells. But the boys could not achieve their aim because the affected residents informed the chairman of Eleta Estate Community Development Association, who also informed security agencies.
“When the boys heard that the matter had been reported to security agencies, they went back. They have not come back to this community to fulfil their desire,” Ale stated.
Possible cause of water contamination
But what could have been responsible for the contamination of the wells and streams in the area? The residents all pointed fingers at a fuel station at Oke Alaro part of Elebu, Ibadan. The fuel station is about 500 metres to the affected houses.
Investigation revealed that the oil spillage from the fuel station might have found its way into the underground water of the affected community and contaminated their water.
As gathered, the fuel station got burnt in May 2020, and it was not operational since then until October 2021. This reporter was told that repair works on the station started this year. The services of a welder was engaged, who reportedly fixed the underground tanks in preparation for commencement of operation again. Petrol was later supplied to the station, and it was emptied into the repaired underground tanks. It was later discovered that the rusted tank leaked from some spots, went into the ground, and later resurfaced in the wells and the stream in Eleta Estate.
Meanwhile, Commissioner for Environment in Oyo State, Abiodun Oni; Special Adviser to Governor Seyi Makinde on Environment, Ademola Aderinto; and a Director in charge of pollution in the Ministry of Environment, Mrs Modupe Adeleye, have paid an assessment visit to the community. Also, the Sole Administrator of Omi-Apata Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Mr. Saka Fashola, a lawyer, has also led top officials of the council to the community for an on-the-spot assessment of the water contamination.
Speaking during the visit, Oni said: “We thank God that we have not lost anyone to this unfortunate incident. We are still investigating the situation and hopefully in a few days time, we will be able to come up with something reasonable, and get a plan that will help our people’s lives get back to normal.”
Fielding questions on the possible cause of the water contamination, Oni was diplomatic in answering the question. He said: “Obviously, there is a challenge. Something has gone wrong. At this point, we have not been able to pinpoint what really happened. But we are on top of it. We should be able to get something positive out of it at the end of the day.”
The Sole Administrator of Omi-Apata LCDA, Fashola, also told said: “There was news that there is water contamination in the wells and stream in Eleta Estate. That’s why we visited the community. We have also visited the filling station. We saw that it has been sealed off by the government. Then, we went to see the affected people to know how it affected them. We got there and saw that the water in some wells had been heavily contaminated. We have seen that there is a great presence of petroleum in their wells.
“It means, the spillage, arising from rusting of the underground tank of that filling station has resulted into this incident.”
Asked to comment on immediate palliatives for the affected households in the community, Fashola answered: “I learnt that the Ministry of Environment had visited the community earlier. So, we’ll get in contact with them and get all the relevant authorities to work together on this incident and get it stopped as soon as possible because there is no water for them to use now. It is a serious issue with the people living in this area.”
But can the LCDA supply the affected residents with water pending the resolution of the contamination of their wells, Fashola responded: “We will look into the request of supplying them with water. It is an area where we can help the residents of this community and we are ready to do that.”
Acting Director of Environment, Omi-Apata LCDA, Adegoke Adesegun, noted that the government has taken the right step by sealing off the fuel station. He added that the underground tank in question would have to be removed. According to him, the affected wells would be drained continuously. But he could not put a time to when the contamination would stop, saying it might not stop until the petrol that contaminated the underground water in the area has been drained completely.
The owner of the petrol station could not be reached as at the time of filing this report, but residents of the community told this reporter that he had visited the affected houses. He later returned to the community with pumping machine and evacuated the petroleum products in different wells in the affected houses on two occasions. But the wells are still producing contaminated water.
Also, the affected residents said the owner of the fuel station on one occasion supplied them with water via a mini water tanker. They added that he also gave them N6,000 recently. With the money, the residents procured bags of sachet water, which were shared among residents of the affected houses.