In late spring Liberian journalist Charles Yates got a tip that that runoff from a rubber plantation was creating severe toxic pollution in North East Liberia. As a result of the training he received from jhr (Journalists for Human Rights) he realized that many people’s rights were being violated, particularly their right to a clean and healthy environment, and that a story might be able to apply pressure on the right authorities.
While researching his story Charles discovered that pollution from the Firestone Rubber Plantation had caused outbreaks of skin disease, had polluted drinking water, had made fish unsafe for consumption and that there were at least two reports of death directly linked to the pollution.
Yates had his story published in The Inquirer, one of Liberia’s primary newspapers. Soon after, Radio UNMIL, the United Nations Monrovia based radio station, picked up and broadcasted the story. The story then reached Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who consequently ordered audits to be conducted throughout the plantation. Read the full original article below.
Firestone Pollutes Six Villages In Margibi District
EPA Tights Lipped On The Issue While Advocacy Group Warns of Danger
Six villages within district # 3 in lower Margibi County are experiencing severe toxic pollution as the result of wastes flowing from the Firestone Liberia plantation. They have lost their rights to a clean and healthy environment, and describe the great health hazard this has brought to their community. The villages are now experiencing an outbreak of skin diseases, polluted drinking water and a lack of fish safe for human consumption. One baby was recently born with a missing arm, and there are at least two reports of death directly linked to the pollution.
The affected areas are not in the range of Firestone Concession Agreement area, the village elders disclosed, but instead just downstream. One town directly hit by this unfriendly environmental practice is the Kparyah Town. It sits just downstream from the source of the pollution – several cracks in a large pipe belonging to Firestone. The pipe pours constantly into a marsh that is now black from the pollution. A smell rising off the wetland makes it barely possible to stand in the terrain for five minutes. Wilfred B. David, head elder of Kparyah Town explained they do not eat any fish from the creek anymore and their crops also do not grow anymore because of the hazardous pollution leeching from Firestone.
Villagers discovered and reported the pollution in 2002. Since then nothing had been done to correct the problem by government or Firestone. “We have informed our county authorities about the situation and some of them have also come on the scene and have experienced this pollution for themselves but they have not taken any steps against the Management of Firestone,” David lamented. Other villagers alleged that the wastes that are being dumped in the creek are taken from septic tanks, the factory as well as somehuman, and hospital wastes. The villagers further disclosed that as the result of the constant toxic pollution into the creek fishes and marines are dying on a daily basis and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Liberia is not doing anything to prevent the situation.
Villagers also described Firestone management regularly showing up to mock them by asking – with chide laughs – if the village has any fish for sale, before driving off. This has incensed residents. Local youths have threatened to stage a demonstration if the government of Liberia does not take quick measures to curtail the ongoing situation. Youth leader, Sam S. Gaye promised that his youth group will set up road blocks and the protest will be violent if nothing is done to arrest the looming environmental crisis. “We can not continue to live in this kind of atmosphere anymore. Our children are dying and our food production is reducing greatly,” he stated.
Public Relations officer of Firestone Liberia , Mr. Rufus Karmoh, refused to comment on the related issue besides presenting a statement on Firestone Liberia’s Environmental Practices. In the statement, Firestone Liberia did not specifically reference the pollution allegation, but boasted that the company is practicing sound environmental stewardship that is positively impacting the lives of Liberians. The statement explains that Firestone Liberia continuously communicates with its neighbors and with those in surrounding communities. “By gathering information and constantly reviewing its operations, the company is able to identify any environmental issues and address them in timely manner,” the release stated. The release added that the company recently constructed a new state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar water treatment facility that processes water from its factory through equalization and clarification tanks and into its constructed wetlands on the company’s property for natural, biological treatment. On site investigations could not establish where this ‘state-of-the-art’ facility was, or how it applies to the pollution affecting Kparyah Town. Other than acknowledging that receipt of information the pollution issue, EPA head Jerome Nyakan refused to comment on the matter but promised to respond to the issue in later date. A different source at the EPA explained that the EPA received information on the issue as early as 2008, and dispatched a team of investigators on the scene. The source, who wished to remain unnamed due to restrictions in speaking to the press, said the investigators discovered that indeed the pollution was taking place and recommendation was made to the Firestone management. The source did not state what actually came out of said recommendation.
Liberia Environmental Watch’s Director, Morris T. Koffa has warned that if the government of Liberia does nothing to hold Firestone to the book, future consequences will be great and to the detriment of Liberians. The environmental advocacy group boss, who is based in the United States of America, said that information emanating from Firestone must claim the attention of the national government and the lawmakers. Mr. Koffa said these wastes from the factory contain hazardous chemicals that can cause long time effect on the lives of the victims and the surrounding environment on which they depend. He used the occasion to call on the Liberia Environmental Lawyers Association to join the victims in the fight to address the issue. Mr. Koffa said it is true that the victims are financially incapacitated to drag the Management of Firestone to court but with the help and support of the environmental lawyers their dream can come to reality.
“This is a serious concern and the EPA must get involved,” Mr. Koffa angrily told this paper from his US-based residence via mobile phone. The environmental expert warned that if the government of Liberia does not rush in to rescue its citizens from the degradation of the environment they depend on for a safe and healthy environment, the future consequences will be severe and the government will be held responsible for the damage.