Concerns raised as chemicals from burnt-out Durban plant threaten health and wildlife
Cornubia’s UPL chemical plant in Durban, which housed 1,600 hazardous materials, was set on fire in riots this month. The fire continued to burn for days, with concerns about the impact on the environment and the health of residents.
UPL’s chemical plant in Durban is still smoldering days after it was set on fire in riots and looting that hit the region in July. Photo: @ DA_KZN / Twitter
CAPE TOWN – Following recent violent events, the authorities are facing yet another crisis – the short and long term impact on the environment.
For more than seven days, chaos erupted in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal as looters ransacked businesses and other entities.
But others have gone even further in their sinister actions, burning property with no regard for the consequences.
In KwaZulu-Natal, one of the targets was a chemical plant in Durban, which housed 1,600 hazardous materials and continued to smolder for several days.
Cornubia’s UPL chemical plant in Durban is located near uMhlanga lagoon and the Ohlanga river, which empties into the Indian Ocean.
When the warehouse caught fire last Monday and continued to burn for days, it was clear the damage would be enormous. And it was not limited to the burnt site.
The water flowing into the lagoon has now turned turquoise and dead fish have washed up on the shore, indicating the extent of the toxic spill.
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Specialists in marine biology, water, air, chemicals, estuaries and others were still awaiting test results to determine the severity of the pollution.
Dr Kevin Winter is an environmental and geography scientist at the University of Cape Town.
“The threat is serious to marine life, and it may take a long time before it begins to recover. Of course, it’s not just the fish, it’s also the crustaceans and birds that died in the spill itself, ”he said.
Air pollution also remains a major concern, as firefighters continue to douse the still smoking debris.
“A lot of the gases that people breathed there were very high in sulfur, which could affect, in particular, people with respiratory illnesses.”
Sphume Nowele, Department of Environmental Affairs, KwaZulu-Natal, described the levels of toxicity after the chemical spill and air pollution in parts of the province: “This is serious and it shouldn’t be. case be underestimated.
Most urgent and of most concern was the fire at the UPL pesticide plant, where firefighters spent days extinguishing the flames.
DA KZN (@DA_KZN) July 19, 2021
“The firefighters also need to be protected because you don’t want to move things there and then it collapses on the firefighters. So that’s the sensitivity of the issue and that’s why it’s taking longer than expected to fully extinguish this fire, ”Nowele said.
She said that due to acts of violence last week, the facilities were closed and samples were not sent to labs until Monday.
Preliminary results are expected on Wednesday and will be evaluated by a team of specialists.
Other samples will take longer to analyze after being sent overseas.
“We are going to get these results so that we can make informed decisions in terms of what happens in the future.”
Nearby beaches remain closed to the public and although some companies are desperate to reopen, they have been told this is not safe as the damage and its costs have been assessed.
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