Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Trafigura: Not the Whole Truth 14 – Minton and NFI


A series of posts in which I highlight areas where Trafigura, or those whose writing is supportive of them, does not tell the whole truth. There will be truth, possibly a lot of truth, in the statements I look at but all is not as it seems. I don’t allege that the ‘Not the Whole Truth’s are deliberate.

There was serious intent behind my last post but here I will look at the issue of how the toxicity of the Probo Koala’s waste is reported by Trafigura.  Trafigura may well have its own unpublished studies but two reports stand out as giving information on toxicity: the ‘super-injuncted’ Minton report and the NFI report [English version here].

‘Minton’ is a rich source of valuable information despite Trafigura saying of it:

Trafigura commissioned Minton, Treharne & Davies Ltd (Minton) to prepare a document, based on purely theoretical information, on what may have happened in Abidjan. This was later to become known as the ‘Minton Report’.
In fact, the Minton Report was never finalised as its contents were importantly superseded within a matter of days by comprehensive analyses of the actual slops. This analysis was carried out by the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI), …
’ [My emphasis]


The draft report put forward various generic hypotheses on the effects of certain chemicals and gases, including hydrogen sulphide, which, as it transpired in later analysis, were not present in the actual slops in its molecular form. Yet Minton’s hypotheses would later be seized upon and irresponsibly misinterpreted in certain sections of the media.

Trafigura are correct when they say that the Minton report must be read carefully but there is important information which is relevant to the Probo Koala’s waste but we must be aware too of the limitations of the NFI Report. 


My impression is that the NFI has become almost the bible of Trafigura’s waste with the answer to any question contained within. 

Not the whole truth !


I regard the NFI report very, very highly but we must remember that their study was initiated by an odour incident in Amsterdam and, as such, their interest was in volatile compounds which could be released from the waste during the treatment carried out in Amsterdam.  NFI analysed both organic and aqueous phases but, for their modelling on the movement and toxicity of volatile compounds once released in to the atmosphere, only the aqueous layer was considered. [None of the organic layer was discharged or treated. The composition of the oil phase is not dealt with here as it was not discharged at APS and, additionally, it was not processed in the DAF.NFI English version  page 27]

Importantly, the NFI report focuses exclusively on the composition of the waste and its effects in Amsterdam.


What (might have) happened in Abidjan is not touched upon in the report.   


Certainly we have a good understanding of the composition of the waste and the effect of pH on the release of hydrogen sulphide but we must be aware of reading too much into NFI’s modelling of volatile compound movement and effect.  NFI were dealing with bulk waste – aqueous only – whose pH was known and in only one tank.  Even then the process appears horrendously complex and riven with assumptions about weather and the rate of release of volatile compounds.

They could not, and did not, study waste as it was dumped in Abidjan - in many sites of varying size, depths and situations.

We can use the NFI report to help understand what might have happened in Abidjan.  Let us do that but let us not be blinded to its shortcomings in the Abidjan situation.


Let us look at how both reports deal with one compound: sodium hydroxide (caustic soda)

The NFI report does not mention the toxicity of aqueous sodium hydroxide in the waste because it was of no concern to their studies but in Abidjan those who came into direct contact might well have been affected by its corrosive properties. 

Minton says this:

3.1 Sodium hydroxide (NaOH, aqueous solution) is corrosive and can cause severe burns on contact with skin.  Any inhalations of mist would lead to burns within the respiratory system.

The aqueous layer of Trafigura’s waste was contaminated aqueous sodium hydroxide.  What Minton says is relevant but Trafigura has virtually removed the Minton report from discussions on the basis that it was hypothetical and superseded by the NFI report.


Neither report is appropriate for the situation in Abidjan: both give pointers and both are severely limited.

Both must be used but with great care.


If the waste contained nothing but aqueous sodium hydroxide it would be considered toxic and dangerous to humans.


My toxic challenge has not yet been taken up by any Trafigura executive.  The challenge remains open.

No comments:

Post a Comment