A fire at a Durban warehouse used by UPL, an Indian producer of chemicals used in agriculture, released a range of harmful chemicals across a wide area, according to a report released by the provincial government.
On 13 July, looters set the warehouse on fire, causing a chemical spill that resulted in a significant fish die-off, the closing of beaches and complaints from residents about air pollution.
The environment ministry has said UPL didn’t have the appropriate permits to store the chemicals and, along with the owners of the land where the warehouse is situated, may be liable for criminal prosecution. UPL has refuted the allegations.
“The scale is considered to be ‘regional’,” Airshed Planning Professionals, which carried out the research, said in the report. “The impact significance is rated to be ‘very high’.”
Among the gases released were sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen cyanide, Airshed said.
Unburnt pesticides also settled over the area, where plumes of gas extended as high as 300m into the air. The gases released can cause respiratory problems ranging from irritation of the larynx to oxygen deprivation.
UPL didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
South Africa’s parliament has said the company should be held to account and that by 24 November it had paid R247-million for a clean-up operation.
AmaBhungane reported on the study earlier. — (c) 2022 Bloomberg LP