Liberia: Residents of Harmon Field Accuse SSF Construction Company of ‘Deliberately’ Polluting their Community

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As the oil clots outside of the fence, the company dug a gutter to allow the dirty and sludgy liquid to flow freely into the community

HARMON FIELD, PAYNESVILLE – Residents of Harmon Field in Paynesville have accused SSF Entrepreneur Inc., a Lebanese-owned engineering company of putting their lives at risk as a result of pollution emitted from its construction works.

They said the company is deliberately polluting their community with waste from its heavy-duty equipment and has refused to collect the engines’ residues.

FrontPage Africa’s reporters made several visits to the SSF Company’s offices in Paynesville and Sinkor but staffers said they could not respond to queries as they are not clothed with the authority to do so. “The people you supposed to be talking to you are not around,” a staff told this reporter.

However, FrontPage Africa’s environmental reporter discovered a huge spillage of black liquid in the form of dirty engine oil leaking from the SSF Construction Company’s fence through a pipe into the community. As the oil clots outside of the fence, the company dug a gutter to allow the dirty and sludgy liquid to flow freely into the community.

Residents of the area said the company has been polluting the community for years but nothing has been done to stop it despite series of engagements with the company. They have lodged series of complaints to municipal and environmental authorities but nothing has been done to stop the pollution.

The Paynesville City Corporation (PCC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) however noted that they have not received any complaints from the residents.

Charles Massaboi (seen here cleaning up) said he had been living healthily and peacefully with his neighbors until the company opened its workstation. Since then, it has been deliberately polluting the community with chemicals. As a result, he suffered from a severe illness that has damaged one of his lungs

“We have gone to the EPA several times but nothing has been done to solve the problem. We have even taken them to Town Hall (the Paynesville City Corporation), but nothing happened,” said Charles Massaboi, a prominent resident of the area.

FPA met Mr. Massaboi carrying on a massive cleanup exercise at his home and the alley that forms the boundary between his compound and the back of the company’s fence. In addition to the spillage, there was a huge pile of garbage and thick grass behind the company’s fence.

Massaboi said he has been a resident of the area since 1981 and had been living healthily and peacefully with his neighbors until the company opened its workstation here during the administration of ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Since then, it has been deliberately polluting the community with chemicals. As a result, Massaboi said he developed severe illness, causing one his lungs to damaged.

Massaboi: “The company’s action has an adverse effect on us. For me, I am down here and my yard is the sink for the oil. When it rains heavily, the oil comes down here and spreads all over. For this road, I have been admitted to the hospital five times under critical condition. I lost one of my lungs and I am only living on one lung now. These few days, I have been sick, but because I can’t stand the filth and this high pollution, I am constrained to clean up.”

The Chairperson of the Harmon Field Community, Madam Helena Tisdell says she fears residents of the area would suffer from a disease outbreak if nothing is done to stop the pollution, adding the chemical is spreading faster and will contaminate their wells and pumps used to fetch water for drinking and other household use.

Madam Tisdell: “Let them come and tell the company to stop polluting the community. To just allow the company to keep polluting our area without anyone telling them to stop, means that they are condemning us, and taking us to be animals and we are not animals. We are humans. Let them come put stop to them.”

She noted that since the company set up its station here, management has not identified with them by implementing any community project as part of its corporate social responsibility.

She says, if nothing is done to address the situation, she will mobilize residents to stage a peaceful demonstration at the company’s workstation to draw authorities’ attention to their plight. FPA could not get a response from the company. Reporters went to its workstation but were told that all of the administrative staff have gone to the company’s 11th street head office to a meeting. But when our reporters visited 11th Street, he was told by the security to come another day.

PCC, EPA Responses

The PCC, through its Public Relations officer, Jeremiah Digen said the city government was not aware of any complaints filed against the company. However, now that the problem has been brought to the PCC’s attention, the PCC will launch an investigation, and if the company is held liable, then a hefty fine will be placed on its head.

“What I can say to you is that the PCC is not aware of what you (reporter) are just bringing to our attention. It is new to us. And this is in no way justifying that the residence of Paynesville should experience what they are saying that they are experiencing,” he said.

“We empathize with them and since this has been brought to our attention, we can assure you and the residence of Harmon Field that the appropriate action will be taken to see how best this situation can be resolved.”

The EPA’s communication officer, Aloysius David also said the agency has not received complaints from the residence of the area, contrary to their claims but acknowledged that its field staff has reported massive pollution in the area following FPA’s inquiry.

This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in Partnership with FrontPage Africa.

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