"Ammonium Nitrate Spillage in Cape Mount Unrelated to Health Claims"

Some of a 26-kilogram consignment of ammonium nitrate spilled into a private yard in Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County last month. Photo Credit: Philip Zodua.  

--- As Bea Mountain says understanding reach with Small Bomi Town residents

Following the accident in Small Bomi on the 19th of February 2022, where a quantity of ammonium nitrate was spilled on the ground in the village, authorities confirm that the health claims made by residents of the affected community are unrelated to the spillage. 

In a statement, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it conducted an environmental quality assessment of the area and presented its findings to the public. “The EPA reiterates that the accident posed no inherent environmental and/or health risks to the residents of Small Bomi. For instance, air quality readings taken after the accident showed nitrous oxide (the main gas that forms when ammonium nitrate decomposes) levels far below the World Health Organization permissible limit for 8 hours continuous exposure.” 

Community Relations Superintendent Henry Vincent with the town chief, women, and elders of Small Bomi town.

A source close to the incident said the truck transporting a load of bulk bags of ammonium nitrate from the Buchanan Port to the New Liberty Gold Mine was part of a convoy of vehicles on that Saturday, February 19.  The driver of the truck fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed along the side of the bank at the village. About 10 metric tonnes of the load was spilled from the back of the truck onto the ground as small pellets. This was at 06:55 in the morning.

According to the source, the following facts have been established: The Bea Mountain Mining Corporation (BMMC) team responsible for the transport got to the scene shortly afterward and the members of the Liberian Joint Security Team (JST) (who accompany the consignments) were also at the village shortly after the crash. This JST includes a person from the EPA. The driver and his mate were both injured.  An ambulance was immediately dispatched from the New Liberty Mine. The senior members of the EPA team in Monrovia were promptly called to the scene and they left Monrovia for the accident site shortly afterward.

The BMMC Health and Safety Superintendent and the Environmental Spill Response team arrived at the scene at about 9 am. The community was reassured that the situation was under control and that the clean-up would start immediately. The spillage area was barricaded off and the BMMC team immediately started the clean-up operation.  No people from the village assisted with the clean-up and they were kept away from the spilled content. The spilled white granules were shoveled into bags and the bare ground surface was swept clean to remove all the product.

The Senior EPA team led by the Chief Scientist and Head of the Chemicals Permitting section, Rafael Ngumbu, arrived in the morning. They assessed the scene and measured the air quality for dust and gases and found that the levels were far below the World Health Organisation limits for 8 hours of continuous exposure.  The EPA has concluded that the spillage “poses no risk to the residents”.  The EPA team had a town hall meeting with the community and explained how the incident would be managed. The community engagement allayed public fear and provided an overview of ammonium nitrate which is mainly used as a fertilizer.

Ammonium nitrate is widely used as fertilizer across the world.  The product comes as small spherical pellets. There is no dust in the bags and the product is clean. 

The EPA’s Rafael Ngumbu also gathered the community to talk about the product and answer their questions. The Health and Safety Manager translated the discussions into the local Vai language to ensure that people fully understood what was being said. The EPA confirmed that  “…after the town hall meeting, EPA recorded environmental quality data and supervised the complete clean-up of the spill by the Bea Mountain Mining Company’s Environmental Team.”

The EPA’s test provided no evidence of any dust or gases as claimed by the community.

BMMC’s H&S Manager, Mr. Fanbulleh, stayed until the area had been swept and the surface had been washed with a water tanker to ensure that no product remained.  The community was satisfied at that point.

The EPA Executive Director also confirmed in their recent press release that “Bea Mountain Mining Company and KAPEKS also obtained all documents required to meet full compliance and during the transportation of the ammonium nitrate from Buchanan to New Liberty Gold Mine, the Joint Security Team including the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Mines and Energy and EPA provided escort for each convoy,” He disclosed that no residue of ammonium nitrate remained after the clean-up process and noted that no water sources were observed within 10 meters radius of the area. He said that “…this ensured an adequate response to the incident of 19th February 2022”.

The BMMC Community Relations Supervisor visited the scene on 7th March and listened to the people’s concerns and answered their questions. They spoke to the community members and listened to their concerns about coughs and skin ailments.

The County Health Team from Sinje and BMMC CR team went to the village on the 18th of March to look into the people’s health complaints. After examination of the complaints, it is understood that the complainers’ conditions are stable.

As indicated in the Daily Observer article updated on 18 March 2022 with the EPA’s full response, the EPA noted that it assessed every medium of transport linked to ammonium nitrate toxicology and found absolutely no evidence of residual effect emanating from the accident. The Agency, therefore, submits that the alleged symptoms presented by patients, as referenced in the story, are completely unrelated to the 19th of February ammonium nitrate accident.”

“So far, no link could be found between the ailments described by the community members and the spilled product,” the source said. “The conclusion is that the pain, coughs, and skin conditions reportedly experienced by some of the community members are not related to the accident.” 

Meanwhile, Citizens of small Bomi, Grand Cape Mount county, have realized that they see no risk during the spillage of the Ammonium nitrate. During an investigation report, Mr. Zwannah Zoeduah, town chief of small Bomi, further explained that they have realized that the chemical which got spilled on the bank along the main Road does not affect the people. 

According to Mr. Zoduah, “it was due to ‘fear’ and ignorance that has made them raise these concerns but, as it stands, we have realized that fear was the outcome of the long months of engagement with all stakeholders involved in the spillage.” 

He noted that the Environmental Protection Agency and the County Health Team have established through vigorous checkups and monitoring, noting that the chemical is widely used as fertilizer, and it can only be harmful when processed into another state of use. “Based on numerous checkups, EPA and the County Health Team said we all are stable in health,” said the town chief. 

Mr. Zwannah Zoeduah further called on Bea Mountain mining  Cooperation for a better working relationship despite a month-long dispute about the chemical spillage but noted that they wanted to get a clear picture of the effect of the spillage. 

He at the same time commended the citizens of small Bomi for understanding that Ammonium nitrate poses no threat to them and called on the residents of the town to have cordial relations with BMMC. 

“We believe in our Health system, EPA, and BMMC management, noting that this was an accident and almost took lives. We pray for peace and may Allah bless us all,” he concluded. 

Also speaking, Ma Daba Kawa, a resident of small Bomi, noted that when the truck had the accident, “our children ran to the scene for rescue until later, one of the drivers yelled that the chemical is harmful. With that, we built our thought that we were not safe. But having the intervention of the national Government, through the county health team and the EPA, we have come to realize no further sickness attached to that chemical on us, we also thank Allah for that. 

In conclusion, Madam Kawa further explained that it is not good as a person of Allah to put sickness on oneself and claim chemical spillage.