ponhea leu district, Kandal province – Quick-thinking villagers beat government officials to the clean-up earlier this month when 10,000 liters of refined diesel leaked from a storage tank into the Tonle Sap River 30 minutes north of Phnom Penh, witnesses said Monday.
Much of the spill was cleaned up by enterprising villagers near the facility, who saw the chance to earn some money by skimming the diesel into buckets and selling the fuel at road-side stands for a discount price of 800 riel per liter.
Environmental impacts were still unclear Monday. Heng Nareth, director of the pollution control department in the Ministry of Environment, said that he had no accurate information about the Dec 12 spill but would send officials to the scene.
Witnesses said the source of the leak was a storage tank in the Sokimex facility in Kandal province.
An employee of the facility, who declined to be named for fear of losing his job, blamed the leak on a faulty valve clogged with grit.
But Sokimex President Sok Kong denied Monday that the spill originated from the facility, and blamed instead the Tela fuel company next door.
Tela officials could not be reached for comment.
Kandal Province Governor Tep Nannary said he has sent provincial officials to check whether there is an environmental impact.
The leak started in the middle of the night Dec 12, villagers said, and by morning the riverbank near their floating homes was polluted with the diesel.
Although the fuel leaked into the water, it did not threaten the drinking supply, said Ek Sun, director of the municipal water supply authority.
Diesel floats, he explained, and the city draws its water from 5 meters below the surface.
Villagers reported no health or environmental impacts Monday, talking instead of the business created by the spill.
Toeng Seung, a 67-year-old fisherman, said he smelled fuel on the night of Dec 12 and woke to find his neighbors already in their boats with flashlights and buckets.
Smelling an opportunity, he began to do the same, eventually collecting 90 liters of fuel and earning from 700 to 800 riel per liter.
In addition to earning immediate rewards, the villagers’ actions may have lessened the environmental impact of the leak, according to one environmental expert, who asked not to be named.
But the expert cautioned that Cambodia sorely lacks the disaster preparedness it needs to contain such leaks.
“Maybe we got lucky this time,” he said.