Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 September 2019

UAQ residents sickened by fumes from oil recycling plant

The municipality has shut down the plant and ordered it to clean up, but residents are leery.
The Oil Tech recycling plant in UAQ. Lee Hoagland / The National
The Oil Tech recycling plant in UAQ. Lee Hoagland / The National

UMM AL QUWAIN // When they started waking up in the middle of the night, gasping for breath or because their children were complaining of burning lungs, residents of a UAQ housing complex decided that after three years they had had enough.

Shortly after moving into her luxury townhouse in Emaar-built Minstrel Villas, Gabriella began noticing the smell of sulfur in the air starting at sundown and, at times, lasting until sunrise.

“It’s so bad, I’ve woken up from my sleep in the dead of night to throw up,” she said. “You can’t go back to sleep, the doors are shut, the house is completely shut off but it still gets in. You can’t get anything done.”

Thinking it was a faulty air-conditioning system, Gabriella began talking to other members of the community and soon realised she was not the only one who could smell the problem.

The fumes were coming from a used oil recycling plant owned by Oil Tech, approximately 10 kilometres away from Minstrel Villas.

“I went to them personally and told them about the smell,” said T G, who moved into his home three years ago. “They basically said that we’ve been here before you and this is normal. The fumes are so bad, I had a tenant walk out of my house, get a big whiff of it and the next day they ended up in the hospital with pneumonia,” the American said.

For the past three years, the factory has been exuding fumes due to outdated machinery.

“They were ordered to shut down because of the smell on October 24,” said Muaz Hamza, an environmental inspector with the UAQ municipality. “And they won’t be allowed to open until they take care of that problem.

“They are bringing a company to do the cleaning, then they will be allowed to continue operation. We had the residents start complaining in March of 2014. It took us the summer to investigate and once we were done we decided to shut them down until further notice according to the law that protects the residents.”

R A, who lives in a labour camp close enough to hear the machinery running in the factory, said: “It has gotten better, but it still smells. We used to wake up almost every night because of it.”

The municipality blamed the odor on evaporating chemicals and byproducts remaining in the factory’s piping and storage containers during operation.

Oil Tech refused to comment on the case.

“We didn’t know about the smell until three days after we moved in,” said C P, who bought a home in the development last year. “It’s just so much sometimes. I have two babies and it burns them, runny nose and runny eyes.”

Residents said the smell is dependent on wind direction and weather, but that it is only ever present at night.

“We didn’t know about the smell, it’s a lovely place and we bought it not thinking anything,” said another resident. “How could we have known? You don’t tend to view properties at night.”

Residents said that they have gone to the Ministry of Civil Defence, Ministry of Environment, the municipality and the fire department, but to no avail.

Now they must hope the municipality shutdown improves the air quality.

“It’s a shame because this is such a beautiful place, and for families you want to enjoy yourself outdoors especially when the weather is nice,” C P said. “But we just can’t.”

Muaz Hamza, Environmental Inspector at the Umm Al Quwain Municipality, said: “We’ve stopped the factory and they have stopped their operation, but then there is the ongoing case of residual chemicals exhuming fumes.

“They’ve brought in a company to clean up the mess and they will not start operations again until their factory is up to standards.”


Updated: November 30, 2014 04:00 AM