Sat, 21 Jun 2003

Resident makes money from oil pollution

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

People normally make a living from a river by catching and selling the fish that live in it, but in Kampung Sawah, Pulo Gadung, Andi, 56, sops up and sells the oil and diesel fuel that pollutes the small river that runs past his house.

The river shines black with oil and fuel from the factory of PT Jakarta Cakratunggal Steel Mills, which stands a few meters from his house.

Every day, Andi places wide sponges on the water's surface to absorb the oil and fuel. He then squeezes the sponges over a drum, where Andi stores the oil and fuel before selling it for Rp 50,000 for 200 liters.

"Usually I can sop up the oil and fuel and fill up to three 200-liter drums every week," he said.

He said that when the steel factory was especially busy, he could fill up to five drums a week and earn up to Rp 1 million a month.

And once every three months the river is so polluted Andi can fill 20 drums in a week. He suspects this happens when the factory is servicing its machinery.

During the busy times his wife helps him with the work.

The idea of sopping up fuel from the polluted river popped up seven years ago, when the river caught fire.

Andi said a resident was burning his garbage when a fire sparked up in the middle of the river and crept up to the factory, following the line of diesel fuel.

Residents realized there was an ample amount of diesel fuel in the river and begin skimming it off the top of the water.

"Back then I collected a liter of fuel and brought it to some workshops a kilometer from here. Apparently, they liked it and continued to buy it," Andi said.

He said he had no idea what the fuel he collected was used for. However, it is no secret that there are a number of fake oil producers who sell their products in the market.

Andi now has a regular buyer, who comes to his house to buy his collected fuel.

When he started the business six years ago, there were lots of other residents collecting fuel from the river, but Andi is the only person still at it.

"Maybe the others aren't patient enough or can't stand the dirty river," he said.

As the Post observed, besides oil and fuel the river is also filled with garbage and who knows what else.

So far, though, Andi can't complain about his health. However, he said he wouldn't use the water for washing or bathing.

Nevertheless, some residents of Kampung Sawah use the river water to irrigate their rice fields, the harvests from which are sold in their hometown of Karawang, West Java.

So for anyone who buys rice in Karawang, bon appetite.