Sapref pacifies residents over pollution

Published Jul 25, 2002

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Durban - SA Petrol Refinery (Sapref) sought to assure Bluff residents on Tuesday night that pollution from a petrol leak last year was under control, yet it could not give reasons why families who had been relocated could not return home.

Richard Parkes, the managing director of Sapref, said for the first time benzene readings were once again in line with UK guidelines. But he did not know when families could return home.

Sapref said a decision in this regard would be made once independent toxicologists and eThekwini health department had been consulted. No time frame was given but Parkes committed to doing this as soon as possible.

In a presentation to the community, Sapref said toluene levels averaged 0.035mg/m2 for June and July compared with a 0.039mg/m2 average for 2002, six times better than the World Health Organisation guideline of 0.26mg/m2.

Benzene readings for June and July were 0.016mg/m2, which is line with the target and compares with an average of 0.019mg/m2 for 2002. Sapref said benzene was only a concern if the level remained higher than 0.16mg/m2 for many years.

Sapref relocated seven families in September last year following a massive petrol leak in Tara Road on the Bluff, south of Durban, in which over 1 million litres of petrol leaked into soil and groundwater.

Scharlotte van Staden said: "I can't even start to explain the impact this has had on our lives. Besides the damage to my husband Ivan's garden, which he built up over 14 years, plans to move my business have been delayed and a competitor has opened up a around the corner. I have missed an opportunity."

To date just over 1 million litres of petrol and 60 million litres of groundwater have been pumped out of wells that were sunk around the area.

Parkes said repairs to pipelines "have curbed Sapref's capacity by about 10 percent and cost us up to R200 million in lost production". Sapref is jointly owned by Shell and BP.

Van Staden said one-to-one contact with Sapref had been limited. "I am surprised that I have not had a call from Sapref."

But another resident said: "Sapref has been in regular contact and has been supportive." Yet her family refused to move back home after about 30 wells were sunk in their garden. "The foundations have definitely been damaged. We told Sapref they must take the house."

Sapref has yet to respond to their demand to buy the house.

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