Fire at factory leads to criminal investigation

The fall out from a fire at the UPL chemical warehouse in Durban has led to criminal charges being laid against the company.

During the July riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the warehouse was set alight. To douse the flames firefighters used water that contained chemicals which then worked their way into neighbouring communities by seeping into the soil and rivers. According to Barbara Creecy, the Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs, an entire ecosystem – including the oHlanga tributary and the uMhlanga estuary, the beaches and the coastal environment – were seriously impacted and may take years to recover.

Creecy confirmed that a independent team of investigators have initiated a criminal investigation into the incident.

A preliminary report found that UPL was not authorised to operate its Cornubia chemical factory and had failed to gain environmental authorisation from the KZN government or planning permission from the eThekwini Municipality.

Creecy stated: “Had the UPL undertaken this process, it would in all probability have been defined as a major hazard institution considering the significant volumes and nature of the chemicals stored at this particular location.

“These assessments would have determined the emergency readiness of the facility in the face of a disaster such as a fire.”

UPL claims to have spend R177million in a clean-up operation and on monitoring the impact of the incident on public health. It is said to be fully co-operating with the government and authorities though it maintains it can’t be held responsible for fires that were the result of rioting.

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