Borehole Fuel Contamination – Risk Assessment of the Helensvale Public Borehole

Borehole Fuel Contamination - Risk Assessment Helensvale Borehole
Borehole fuel contamination is a real risk we need to be talking about before it’s too late and we find our communities dealing with expensive cancer treatments we cannot afford.

It’s no secret that in most northern neighborhoods in Harare, people don’t drink council water mainly because it’s hardly available and when it is, it’s filthy dirty as evidenced by countless shared videos and conversations between residents on social media, online magazines and at times on local radio stations. Borrowdale is one of the neighborhoods with the most number of boreholes in the country... It’s rare to find more that 5 houses in every 20 without a borehole. The reason is obvious… boreholes mitigate the water crisis. In some limited cases folks resort to buying bulk water at about 40-50$ per 5000 litres – a pricey alternative.

In this short article I really just want to discuss the risks fuel stations pose to boreholes, in particular I will focus on the public borehole that was drilled in Helensvale off Crowhill road about 500m or less from the two petrol stations at Helensvale shops. It’s really admirable that the borehole was dug there to help hundreds of families to get access to water however as an auditor with an eye for detail and risk assessment, I couldn’t help but think what could go wrong… what could really go wrong? Well…

Petrol stations or fuel stations, have large underground storage tanks. Ever wonder if these huge underground tanks can cause a problem for you and your family? The short answer is yes they have a HUGE RISK! In some communities around the world oil companies have faced lawsuits from people that have suffered from water contamination as a result of contamination from these underground storage tanks. Uncoated steel will rust over time and you can imagine what comes next when these tanks have rust doing it’s thing on them… leakage!!! Where will the leaked oil go? Any chance it might make it’s way to your borehole? to the borehole at Helensvale? 

I have not even mentioned the petrol spills or the pollution that may be in the air and potentially find it’s way into the soil or vegetables grown in the area or sold at the Helensvale market. Without vapour intrusion tests, there is no way to know if there is a serious issue of carcinogens present that would greatly increase the risk of brain cancer to members of the community living around the two fuel stations. Things that make you say “Hmmm…”

Petrol has over 140 chemicals in it, including in some cases methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) that makes water undrinkable. According to studies published on Google, repeated exposure to fuel can cause brain, kidney and/or lung cancer. Does this scare you? It certainly worries me that this is the risk every family that drinks from the public borehole at Helensvale is exposed to with each sip they take. I’m not trying to over-sensationalize this risk/concern… just stating the obvious!!! You should be drinking water – not gas or petrol chemical elements!

Borehole Fuel Contamination - Helensvale Borehole Location
Helensvale ariel map: A – Fuel Station, B – Fuel Station, X – Public Borehole

If indeed the Helensvale public borehole is contaminated the situation is more critical already as people drink the water and use it to water their plants. Anyone eating those plants is at the risk of the above illnesses we discussed and in most cases water that is contaminated by fuel will also kill plants if used to water them. Could this explain cases of your burned/dry lawn patches on your property… who knows? Until tests are done there is no real way of knowing. However, the risk is real as some other communities have found elements of petrol in the water while some found pure petrol floating at the top of their borehole water in boreholes located close to fuel stations. We urgently need to test that the borehole water at the Helensvale public borehole is safe for public consumption and honestly if I had a property around Helensvale or any fuel station in the country, I would get the borehole water tested for any signs of contamination. It’s probably a good idea to also test soil samples around the area.

I’m sure as you read this article you are thinking to yourself, “Why not just do a risk assessment?“. If these are your sentiments, then you are right! Conducting a risk assessment of the Helensvale public borehole is the critical first step. The Helensvale borehole water needs to be tested to ensure that it’s safe for human consumption. In-scope should also be the construction, stability and operation of the two fuel stations at Helensvale. The risk assessment will help the community more effectively identify potential harm from contaminated water or current operations of the fuel stations, and ascertain the  risk level for each identification then last but not least… illuminate controls to close gaps or mitigate the risk exposure at the Helensvale public borehole.

Now that we have discussed the risks above, here are some questions the community needs to think about:

  • When should a risk assessment of the Helensvale public borehole be conducted?
  • How often should the water be tested?
  • How should the water and soil be disinfected if found to be contaminated?
  • What standards are in place for making these fuel storage tanks and how are they inspected for damage and leakages?
  • How are fuel tanks monitored for leakages or for integrity over time and how accurate are the inspection methods?
  • Who should be responsible for continuously testing the Helensvale public borehole’s water for fuel contamination?

The purpose of this article is to simply bring awareness to the public on fuel contamination and the risk it poses to the community. It is my hope that this article will bring the community together and resolve the risks while ensuring that more people in the community have access to safe drinking water!

Share this article with others who drink from borehole water located close to a fuel station in Zimbabwe.  Looking forward to reading your thoughts in the comments section below or on this post shared on the ZimShoppingMalls Facebook page.


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