It’s safe to open the beaches, says UPL after chemical spill in July riots

Indian agrochemical giant UPL has expressed concern over the continued delay in reopening beaches that were closed due to a chemical spill following an arson attack during the July riots on its leased warehouse in Cornubia, Durban. 

On Wednesday, the UPL said its legal team had written to the KwaZulu-Natal department of economic development, tourism and the environment saying the decision to reopen the beaches was being unnecessarily delayed. It urged the department to urgently expedite the process. 

The arson attack on the warehouse occurred during the July riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, which were sparked by the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma.  

Chemicals from the fire seeped into the uMhlanga Lagoon and wetland ecosystem, severely affecting the natural environment. 

“Empirical evidence shows that an entire ecosystem, which includes the oHlanga tributary, the uMhlanga estuary, the beaches and the coastal environment, not only in the vicinity of the UPL, but for several kilometres to the north of the uMhlanga estuary mouth, has been seriously impacted and may take several years to recover from this incident,” Barbara Creecy, the minister of environment, forestry and fisheries, said in a statement. 

The UPL said its letter to the department followed a meeting between UPL’s team of independent specialists and the department’s external reviewer, who has been appointed to conduct a peer review of the report submitted to the department. 

According to the UPL, the report presented the results of a chemical analysis of the beaches and sea water at the beginning of September and concluded that all the beaches and the sea outside a 1km exclusion zone, north, south and east of the mouth, pose an extremely low chemical risk to the public regardless of whether the estuary mouth is open or closed.

The company said that at the meeting, its specialists provided more detail on the chemical analysis and results and also answered all questions posed by the independent reviewer. 

“The team also provided information on the extensive clean-up operations that have been funded by UPL since the attack and which have cost over R250-million to date,” said the company.  

Recent findings of an investigation into the chemical spill show that the UPL warehouse did not have environmental clearance.

The company said all necessary information had been supplied for authorities to determine that the beaches were safe to be reopened.

“UPL recognises the negative impact of the prolonged closure of the beaches on tourism establishments in the area as well as other economic sectors such as the local fishing industry,” it said.

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Anathi Madubela
Anathi Madubela is a business journalist with a keen interest in the retail sector.

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