Autopsy report of dolphin hints 'death due to inhalation or ingestion of toxic substance'
Autopsy report of dolphin hints 'death due to inhalation or ingestion of toxic substance'|Rishu Kalantri
ASSAM

Assam OIL fire: Dolphin death due to toxic substance, says autopsy

Initial study on Baghjan oil well blowout says incident has 'disturbed food chain', to have long-term impact on biodiversity of region

Rishu Kalantri

Rishu Kalantri

Tinsukia: Days after the Bagjhan oil well blowout in Assam's Tinsukia district, the initial study carried out to assess the impact on the ecology and wildlife has pointed out that the incident has “disturbed the food chain” and will have a long-term impact on the biodiversity of the region.

The development comes following the post-mortem report of the carcass of the Gangetic dolphin hinting that the death may be due to inhalation or ingestion of substance of toxin origin leading to hypoxia and death.

Confirming this portion of the report, available exclusively with EastMojo, veterinary doctor K Changmai, one of the doctors who conducted the autopsy, said, “This is only a tentative conclusion on cause of death. For any confirmatory and differential diagnosis further advanced laboratory test must be done by competent authority.”

The carcass of dolphin was found at Maguri-Motapung Beel on May 29, two days after the gas blowout happened at gas well number 5 at Baghjan oilfield of Oil India Limited (OIL) in Assam’s Tinsukia district, spilling gas and condensate oil over 100 feet in the air before polluting the paddy fields, air and water bodies in the nearby areas. The world famous beel is adjacent to blowout gas well, which is in close vicinity to Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

Wishing anonymity, an official in the forest department, privy to the initial assessment on the damage to ecology and wildlife, said, prima facie it has become apparent that the food chain has been disturbed and will have a long-term impact.

Talking to this correspondent, divisional forest officer of Tinsukia wildlife division, Rajendra Singh Bharti, said that there are two kinds of damages -- visible and invisible.

“Visible damages are ones like the fire, grassland gutter in the fire, film of condensate oil seen in the water bodies, the missing birds after the blowout while the invisible damages are the long term damages, which may be more detrimental to the wildlife, based on how hydrocarbons and heavy metals will react with the soil and its impact on the insects and amphibians like butterflies, moths, frogs beside others,” he added.

Portion of autopsy report
Portion of autopsy reportRishu Kalantri

“Even if we see the birds flying around us and other animals moving, that doesn’t mean that they have not been affected,” Bharti said, adding: "If the food chain gets damaged, amphibians and insects die, the birds and animals won’t get to eat."

“Then either they will die due to starvation or will migrate to nearby forests, including the ones in Arunachal Pradesh,” he added.

Bharti said, “To access the extent of damage, we will need at least two years to study. Immediately after the incident, we have to study the effect. Later, two more seasons will be required to study the regeneration and changes in the soil parameters.”

“We are studying birds, butterflies and moth. Next season, we will again study them to see the difference,” he added.

Bharti said, ecological damage can’t be studied in such a short term. “But one thing is for sure that the ecological and wildlife damages cannot be ruled out.”The temperature recorded at the source of the site by one of the investigating teams last week showed as high as 1,300 degrees centigrade, a source said.

When questioned, Bharti said, OIL cooperation has been of mixed level.

“They have provided some information but are silent on others like flame temperature, flame height and mitigation plan."

There are different kinds of impact like sound pollution and fire pollution impact, which is a disturbance to butterflies, moths and other insects and amphibians and has been reported, a source in the forest department told.The temperature recorded at the source of the site by one of the investigating teams last week showed as high as 1,300 degrees centigrade, a source said.

When questioned, Bharti said, OIL cooperation has been of mixed level.

“They have provided some information but are silent on others like flame temperature, flame height and mitigation plan," he said.

There are different kinds of impact like sound pollution and fire pollution impact, which is a disturbance to butterflies, moths and other insects and amphibians and has been reported, a source in the forest department told.

Carcass of Dolphin found in the Maguri Motapung Beel on May 29
Carcass of Dolphin found in the Maguri Motapung Beel on May 29Rishu Kalantri

The temperature recorded at the source of the site by one of the investigating teams last week showed as high as 1,300 degrees centigrade, a source said.

When questioned, Bharti said, OIL cooperation has been of mixed level.

“They have provided some information but are silent on others like flame temperature, flame height and mitigation plan."

There are different kinds of impact like sound pollution and fire pollution impact, which is a disturbance to butterflies, moths and other insects and amphibians and has been reported, a source in the forest department told.

Glimpse of devastation due to the fire
Glimpse of devastation due to the fireRishu Kalantri

The source said, the temperature has increased resulting in increase of soil and water temperature. “It will have an adverse impact on the population of amphibians and is bound to disturb the entire food chain.”

The sprawling Dibru Saikhowa, a national park, is situated in the south banks of the river Brahmaputra in the extreme eastern corner of Assam with an area of 340 sq km, and is a safe haven for many extremely rare and endangered species of Wildlife.

In 1997, Dibru-Saikhowa National Park became the ninth biosphere reserve out of the total over 18 identified till 2017. An identified Important Bird Area (IBA), it is famed for the rare white-winged wood ducks as well as feral horses.

“The forest type of Dibru-Saikhowa comprises semi-evergreen forests, deciduous forests, littoral and swamp forests and patches of wet evergreen forests. A total of 36 species of mammals, 109 species of fish, 43 species of reptiles, 105 species of butterflies and above 500 species of birds have so far been recorded from the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. Moreover, 25% of India's threatened bird species have been found in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park,” Ranjita Bania, fisheries biologist, said.

Bania added, “A paradise for bird lovers, this wetland attached to the Dibru river attracts migratory species – including ruddy shelduck, bar-headed goose, falcated duck, ferruginous duck, northern pintail, Eurasian wigeon. The wetland also supports endangered Gangetic river dolphins, several species of fishes and other aquatic and amphibians unique to the habitat.”

Parts of devastation due to the OIL fire
Parts of devastation due to the OIL fireRishu Kalantri

In the meantime, there are reports of more oil spilled out of the well two days back and flowed in the wetland resulting in death of number of fishes.

OIL spokesperson Tridiv Hazarika said, "It seems some traces of condensate was lying inside a culvert and due to heavy rain and flood the same got washed away. The same was not observed while carrying out cleaning exercise by OIL earlier. Our team visited the said location where the condensate was seen and presently there is no sign of any condensate."

Condensate oil floating in the wetland soon after the blowout
Condensate oil floating in the wetland soon after the blowout Rishu Kalantri

Refuting the allegations, Hazarika said that OIL is bound to share any information sought by government agencies like forest department. “There could be some delay at times because most of the concerned officers are preoccupied with various duties connected to the blowout control and related activities like coordinating with various agencies collecting data and carrying out assessment of impact due to the blowout at ground zero. However efforts have been made to respond to all the queries sought by various government departments and other statutory bodies within stipulated time frame,” he added.

The blowout well caught fire on June 9 and continues to rage.

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