Oil spill halts Gammams

A technical error in a pipeline at Namibia Dairies caused a 6 000-litre heavy fuel oil spill into Windhoek's sewerage system.

06 February 2019 | Local News

ELVIRA HATTINGH

A spill of roughly 6 000 litres of heavy fuel oil into Windhoek’s sewerage system on Sunday has halted all purification works at Gammams.

It is still unclear when the water purification plant will be up-and-running again.

According to Ohlthaver & List (O&L) Group spokesperson Roux-ché Locke, the spill occurred on Sunday morning at the Namibia Dairies plant in Avis due to a technical problem with a pipeline, but they were able to contain the spill, keeping most of it on the premises.

“We took immediate action when we became aware of the spill, working with all relevant stakeholders, including the City of Windhoek, to ensure the situation is not worsened and is contained,” she explained.

A response team comprising of Namibia Dairies and municipal staff members was created to salvage the situation, assess the impact and create a rehabilitation plan.

“Namibia Diaries has assumed the responsibility to ensure that any and all aspects of environmental pollution is managed in a responsible manner,” Locke told Namibian Sun on Monday. In a later media release it was announced that the greatest environmental impact was around the Namibia Dairies premises and that an assessment on the impact downstream was still needed to be undertaken.

Locke explained that heavy fuel oil is used for the boiler system and a technical mishap led to the spill.

“We have already implemented measures to ensure that something like this does not happen and that maintenance to the system is regular and up-to-date. We also have mechanisms installed to prevent a spill like this. However, the volume of the oil was too high. The company is currently busy probing what can be done differently in a case like this, not just at our factories and plants but in Windhoek, in general.”

Completely overburdened

Gammams water purification plant foreman Abner Ambondo explained the waste water system was completely overburdened and the discharge systems were flooded, with water flowing out of manholes.

Attempts to allow the oil to move through the purification process failed, but the water was held within the plant.

Ambondo told Namibian Sun they were concerned that the polluted water could enter river systems around the city, but added that experts from as far as South Africa have been called in to mitigate the impacts.

He said the scale of the damage is still being determined, including the damage to their equipment, which was covered in oil. Fish used in the purification process for the breakdown of phosphates and nitrates have also started dying.

Ambondo said they are unsure about when the system will be up-and-running again.

“At the moment, we are rinsing the system.”

On top of this, he said the fish population would have to be restored before they could start supplying partly purified water to Windhoek.

“At this point in time, the City cannot purify any water.”

Windhoek relies heavily on the recycling of waste water to supply its residents and currently 21 000 m3 of potable water is produced daily using recycling.

Windhoek’s household waste water is treated at Gammams first, after which it is further purified at the more advanced Goreangab plant. Waste water is also treated at Goreangab, but this is mostly used as grey water for the maintenance of sports fields in and around the city. Ujams, north of the city, takes in industrial waste water, which contains metals and is too toxic for Gammams.

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