A former employee at Shell, Kay Holtzmann, has accused the oil giant of concealing data on the health effects of two major oil spills on communities in Nigeria. Holtzmann, a whistleblower and former director in charge of Shell’s project to clean up oil spills in the Bodo community in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria, said in a letter seen by UK newspaper, The Independent, that data gathered in the Bodo community, which was devastated by two huge oil spills in 2008 and 2009, showed levels of pollution were “astonishingly high”. The Independent, which reported this yesterday, added that he also accused the company of refusing to make the findings public.
However, Spokesperson for Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Precious Okolobo, was yet to respond to text message seeking Shell’s side on the allegation.
“Please, send a text message, I could barely hear you,” he said, when Sunday Telegraph called him prior to sending the text message. Meanwhile, the head of a group helping to organise Shell’s clean-up efforts in an oil Delta community in Nigeria said, at the weekend, that he was hopeful the clean-up work after two spills in 2008 could start in April. Royal Dutch Shell, according to Reuters, agreed in 2015 on a 55 million pound ($68.62 million) settlement with the Bodo community, after accepting liability for two pipeline leaks due to corrosion that contaminated their land.
“But progress to clean up the spill has been slow after Shell said members of the community had denied it access in August 2015 when work was set to begin.
A community representative said they were unhappy with the contractor Shell picked,” the news agency reported. After months of wrangling, the parties have reached an agreement and clean-up work is set to start in April, said the chairman of the Bodo Mediation Initiative (BMI), a program started in 2013 by the Dutch ambassador to Nigeria.
Holtzmann, a former director in charge of Shell’s cleanup project, however, said in his letter that the clean-up project carried out an analysis of the environment in the Bodo creeks in August 2015 “against fierce opposition” from Shell’s subsidiary company in Nigeria known as Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC). The findings were allegedly so striking that Holtzmann concluded the long term effects of people’s health are “unpredictable”.
He wrote: “The results from the laboratory were astonishingly high, actually, the soil in the mangroves is literally soaked with hydrocarbons. Whoever is walking in the creeks cannot avoid contact with toxic substances.
“Although the locals are accustomed to their environment, they are exposed to hazards and especially negative long term effects on their health are unpredictable.”
The letter was, according to The Independent, addressed to the chairman of the Bodo Mediation Initiative, which is sponsored by the Dutch Government and is tasked to ensure the clean-up is done to international standards.
“Copies were also sent to the Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Eric Solheim, the Dutch Ambassador to Nigeria and Shell,” the newspaper reported.
In 2011, UNEP published a damning report anticipating it would take up to 30 years to clean the Niger Delta from oil spills, caused by theft and operational failures. In 2015, the company agreed to pay £55million to the Bodo community for losses caused by the spills.
Holtzmann called for “immediate action to protect the health of the Bodo residents” and urged for “medical mass screening” to take place, warning against the risk for people exposed to toxic substances by bathing in or drinking the polluted water.
Daniel Leader, partner at law firm Leigh Day, who is representing the Bodo Community, told The Independent: “The Bodo Community was subjected to two devastating oil spills due to faults on Shell’s pipelines in 2008. These spills led to the largest loss of mangrove habitat in the history of oil spills and ruined Bodo’s environment and way of life.
“The community sits on the pollution site, when they open their front door, it’s a sea of oil.
From 2008 to 2017, there has been no clean-up, no health testing, no water supply testing, nothing. “This letter shows that even those who were employed by Shell are deeply concerned by their behaviour and their lack of transparency.
The data that has been uncovered is very serious and leads to real concerns about the potential impact of the health of the Bodo community. “The communities are fedup, they have been waiting and waiting. Nigeria is not getting the attention it deserves from Shell. Shell must act now.”