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A Toxics-Free Future


No Compensation to Sri Lanka for Disastrous Plastic Spill

In May 2021, the X-Press Pearl cargo ship caught fire near the Colombo Harbor (about 9.5 nautical miles away from the shoreline) of Sri Lanka with container loads of hazardous chemicals on board. The spill and resulting chemical pollution are considered the worst man-made maritime disaster to have struck Sri Lanka.

IPEN and its Sri Lankan member group Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) produced a report documenting the chemical pollutants and the potential consequence from the spill, as well as the socioeconomic impacts, with recommendations on how to move forward to mitigate the situation and to prevent future similar disasters. 

Now an article in Sri Lanka’s Daily News finds that more than a year after the spill, there are ongoing beach clean-up activities as tiny plastic pellets, also called “nurdles,” and other debris of the burnt ship continue to wash ashore every day. 

Environmental Scientist and Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) Director Hemantha Withanage said the laboratory tests documents in the CEJ/IPEN report were conducted on samples of plastic pellets collected from the beach, showing a high concentration of harmful chemical compounds such as Bisphenol and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. 

“Both these chemical compounds remain in the environment for a long time, resulting in bioaccumulation. The scope of our tests was limited due to financial constraints, but there can be more such toxic chemical compounds in the debris. People are not aware and also less concerned about the health and environmental risks posed by them,” Withanage told the Daily News.

Moreover, while Sri Lanka spent a lot of money, time and labor to rescue the crew on board the distressed vessel, douse the fire, and worked to mitigate the environmental impacts, the country is yet to receive any compensation for the environmental damage caused by the incident.

Withanage was of the opinion that Sri Lanka could claim as much as US$ 10 billion for the damage. “The MEPA and the AG’s Department are bidding for more time to file a lawsuit, and we may ultimately lose the opportunity to do so,” he alleged, also calling for a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate the matter. He said they have filed two petitions in the Appeal Court and another petition in the Supreme Court over the X-Press Pearl disaster.

Read the full story in the Daily News.