Indignation at UPL’s plan to dump more toxic waste in Dur …

Several of the city’s most popular swimming beaches have been closed for nearly four months as a safety measure after a torrent of pesticides and other agrochemicals spilled into the sea in the aftermath of the arson of July against the UPL chemicals warehouse in Cornubia, north of Durban.

The beach ban was finally lifted on November 2 – but UPL has now sought permission to dump large amounts of toxic waste accumulated in the sea off Durban, via sewage treatment plants in the south near Merebank.

UPL’s new stockpile of toxic waste – scraped from charred remains from the warehouse floor and surrounding roads, riverbeds and sugar cane fields – has been stored in recent months in a “pollution dam” temporary near the warehouse.

From there, the contaminated liquids were loaded into tankers and taken to two specially designed hazardous waste landfills in Gauteng and KwaDukuza.

But, according to a letter from an environmental consultant working for UPL, trucking the waste 650 km to the Holfentein landfill in Gauteng and to the nearest KwaDukuza landfill turned out to be ” extremely expensive ”and also reduced the“ absorption capacity ”of the two recorded discharges.

With the current summer rains, the pollution control dam risked overflowing into the Ohlanga river catchment area because it was “almost impossible” to drain the polluted dam quickly enough. There was also a risk that the hastily constructed dam would contaminate the groundwater and there was a need to consider other alternative local disposal options.

In separate letters, UPL Durban lawyer Norman Brauteseth also wrote to Ethekwini Municipality and senior provincial government officials asking for their support and approval to dump the stockpile of several thousand liters of toxic waste at sea.

Reports seen by Our burning planet show that the dam and the surrounding polluted land contain a cocktail of poisons including heavy metals such as arsenic and copper, as well as pesticides such as atrazine, terbuthylazine, metolachlor, atrazine, triclopyr and 2,4-D.

In one of the letters, Brauteseth said he believed his clients had presented “a very strong case” for the city to dump the chemicals at sea, adding that the request was accompanied by “a letter of verification and support “from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

However, this “letter of support” is very nuanced, and the two CSIR scientists who signed it stress that it is not possible to estimate the potential impact on the marine environment of toxic pesticides if the plan to UPL spill is approved.

Based strictly on the results of the samples provided by the UPL and the authorization conditions specified for Ethekwini to discharge sewage and chemical wastes at sea, it appeared that the discharge of UPL wastes “meets the conditions” of acceptability for disposal at sea via the outfall of the wastewater treatment works in the south ”.

But, putting a certain distance between them and this suggestion, they declare: “However, the scientists of the CSIR do not take decisions on the acceptability of the rejections and despite this conclusion, this responsibility remains devolved to the municipality of eThekwini”.

Significantly, the license conditions that allow Ethekwini to discharge industrial wastewater and effluent off the coast of Durban are based on a very limited range of chemical pollutants designed for local industries south of Durban – not for an abnormal and one-time spill plan of massive volumes of pesticides and highly toxic chemicals following an unprecedented UPL spill.

Francine Hattingh, a resident of Durban North and a member of a civil society stakeholder group set up to monitor the consequences of the UPL chemical disaster, said Our burning planet she was concerned about the possible impacts of dumping more toxic waste into the sea.

Hattingh – a member of the UPL Cornubia Fire civil society action group and the multi-stakeholder forum established by National Environment Minister Barbara Creecy – said she was concerned Durban residents and other groups would be fully informed of the latest UPL proposal.

Hattingh noted that the plan to dump UPL waste tailings at sea has only been revealed through informal channels over the past few days and has not been reflected at all in UPL’s full-page advertisements and door-to-door brochures distributed by the chemical company.

“This information should have been disseminated transparently and widely to the Durban community, but UPL seems to be pushing a particular narrative in its brochures. “

Desmond D’Sa, another community activist who sits on the UPL’s widely rejected Multi-Stakeholder Forum, was more blunt:

“We cannot use the ocean as a garbage dump because of our failures. Each treatment plant discharges waste into the ocean. The ocean’s carrying capacity has been exceeded and is affecting the marine ecology. “

Despite assurances that toxic waste would be diluted at sea, at least 3.9 tonnes of dead fish were collected immediately after the UPL spill.

D’Sa said the plan to dispose of the remaining toxic residues in the Indian Ocean “appears to be a recurring north / south duality where the north benefits from pristine environments and the south from its problems and burden of waste.” . . They need to come up with other options for dealing with the waste and it shouldn’t have been generated in the first place. “

Just after noon on December 15, UPL was invited to comment on suggestions that it was looking for the cheapest option to get rid of the trash.

Initially, the spokesperson for the Japhet Ncube company did not directly answer the question, stating that: “UPL disposes of contaminated surface water strictly in accordance with the licenses and authorizations of the relevant national services.

“In light of the improvements made to the quality of the water collected in the pollution control dam, the UPL specialists have studied with the municipality of eThekwini and the other authorities the possibility of discharging part or all of this water. in the municipal sewer system and / or at the southern outlet of the municipal works.

“These discussions are well documented. A detailed independent analysis was carried out on the municipal disposal standards and on the compliance of the pollution control dam water with these standards. The primary consideration was whether these requirements would be met and whether disposal would only have taken place if it was considered compliant and safe by experts and competent authorities and if the required approvals were in place.

“These discussions have not been concluded and at this point there is no approval or intention on the part of UPL to dispose of the contents of the dam in this manner.”

Half an hour later, the company’s crisis communications team upped the stakes somewhat and threatened to sue Daily Maverick:

“UPL also wishes to raise concerns about the title of your investigation – suggesting that UPL wishes to ‘throw’ its ‘poison’ at sea, which in light of the answer below is clearly not only factually incorrect but , in his opinion, is also defamatory in court.

“All UPL has done is seek to legally dispose of the contaminated water, and the sewage system and outfall at sea are designed and used precisely for this purpose. There is clearly nothing illegal or inappropriate for UPL to explore a lawful disposal mechanism, and any statement or implication to that effect will have consequences. ” DM / OBP

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