Children near factory given sweet treats

By Karen Breytenbach

The Vito ice cream factory, where a safety valve injected a ton of ammonia gas into the atmosphere last week, treated an affected school to ice creams on Monday, on the day a requested technical report landed on management's desk.

Weather conditions on the day of the leak caused an inversion layer that trapped the cloud of ammonia close to the earth, but as the temperature rose it moved from Lansdowne over Athlone before it finally evaporated.

The department of labour found that if the valve had not leaked as a safety measure the high pressure system could have exploded.

The company also requested a technical report from Marine Refrigeration Engineers who service their plant and received a preliminary report on Monday morning.

Of the more than 160 people taken to hospital with respiratory problems, 100 were pupils from Belthorn Primary in Athlone, Habibia Primary in Rylands, Turfhall Primary in Crawford and the Islamia College in Lansdowne.

During school hours on Monday the pupils of Belthorn, the closest school to the factory, were introduced to the various Vito products by managing director Faizullah Harnekar and promotions representative Zerina Mohamed.

The children spent their break time licking ice creams and ice lollies.

"When you spoil them, it's all forgotten," Belthorn acting principal Thomas Joemat joked.

At 2pm an engineer addressed the children about ammonia and its uses in factory refrigeration systems.

"They've been reading words like 'toxic' and 'poisonous' and obviously got quite a fright. We want to enlighten them about how ammonia can be used constructively," said Harnekar.

A number of children suffering from asthma are still recovering at home, while the school's general assistant, an asthma sufferer, "is still very sick".

Joemat said she urgently needs financial help to pay for treatment and the school has pledged to ask Vito for assistance on her behalf.

Most of the children had already dealt with the trauma, Joemat said.

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