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Birth defects, pollution from toxic oil waste spark outcry in Koch County

By Chondok Stephen Magei
The prevalence of birth defects and environmental pollution caused by mismanagement of toxic oil waste has sparked an outcry in Koch County of Unity State.

The oil-producing community in Koch County has particularly condemned the open disposal of chemical waste by the administration of Sudd Petroleum Operating Company (SPOC) in Riew Village. SPOC is currently operating in the Tharjiath oil field.

Authorities report that in 2021, Tharjiath oilfield chemical wastes coupled with swampy water resulted in the death of over 1000 livestock including cattle and goats.

Juba Echo also learned that cases of child deformation have been persistent as oil companies continue to operate parallel with nation environmental regulatory measures.

Koch County’s Jaak Payam administrator Mr Gatkuai Gatchang Thuok confirmed to Juba Echo that SPOC chemical trucker has been dumping chemical wastes on swampy areas and in open ground exposing residents to environmental health hazards.

Gatchang said the chemical wastes cascade into water sources used by residents due to a lack of boreholes.

“Chemical wastes are being poured down and I have talked with SPOC management, the base manager and SPOC security and they have purified the chemical wastes from the swampy water but still there are harmful chemical substances being flown to other swampy areas,” he told Juba Echo during an interview in Jaak Payam.

The administrator said next week, a team comprising the Minister of Petroleum, Minister of Environment, and Unity State Governor is expected to visit the area on a fact-finding mission.

Gatchang advised residents in Koch County, especially the affected area, to refrain from drinking water from polluted sources.

“As I am talking to you now, I advised fishermen, herders, and pedestrians to stop drinking water around oilfield areas of Tharjiath, but the main challenges are lack of boreholes in the area,” he said.

Commenting on birth defects, the administrator said “Many children are born with complications such as deformation and other abnormalities, diseases are increasing, cancer, eyes infections, animals’ deaths and environmental pollution”.  

Last year, two babies were born deformed in Mirmir Payam, and more than 11 other babies were born with deformation in Koch Hospital. Mirmir Payam health supervisor Puot Gatyung Jock reported last year linked the incident to oil pollution.

In a telephone call, Koch County Commissioner Gordon Koang Biel also confirmed the chemical wastes being dumped close to Riew Jaak Payam residential areas of Tharjiath oil company managed by SPOC. He hopes the visit by the government delegation changes the situation.

“The investigative team will come from Juba to investigate and find ways forward so that this issue of chemical waste dumping should not be repeated,” he said.

Legislator speaks

Speaking to Juba Echo, Koch County Member of Parliament Peter Dak Riak said the open disposal of chemicals shall continue to have negative impacts on residents if no solution is found.

“The chemical wastes will continue to have negative impacts on our people who are living around Tharjiath oil company. Diseases like hepatitis, cancer, and blindness could increase.” Dak warned.

Revocation of licenses

In 2021, the government threatened to revoke the operating licenses of oil companies that do not abide by national environmental laws. However, this seems to have done little to compel oil companies to act.

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