South Durban Community Environmental Alliance air quality and officer Bongani Mthembu takes an air samples using two of the instruments which are the Tiger and bucket. Picture supplied by SDCEA.
South Durban Community Environmental Alliance air quality and officer Bongani Mthembu takes an air samples using two of the instruments which are the Tiger and bucket. Picture supplied by SDCEA.

Engen refinery gas leak has some south Durban residents ’gasping for air’

By Zainul Dawood Time of article published Jul 29, 2020

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Durban - Parts of a South Durban community were still feeling the after effects of a gas leak from the nearby Engen refinery - three days after the incident first occurred.

Merebank residents were not able to sleep on Monday night due to the release of the chemical Methyl Mercaptan into the area, Desmond D’Sa spokesperson of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) said.

On Wednesday morning residents in Merewent still complained of the nauseating smell.

The SDCEA claimed Engen Refinery in Tara Road was responsible.

Shailendra Sasti of Gadwal Road said the smell was sickening.

He said the smell only eased slightly at around 1am on Tuesday.

The smell still lingered in the air until 7am.

"A strong foul rotten egg smell permeated throughout the entire house. It did not matter that all the doors, windows were closed. I had to barricade the bottom of the doors with towels and blankets. I tried using the aircon to improve the smell in the house but it did not matter much. I had to put all the fans on in the house. I suffer with asthma and I am working remotely from home. Luckily, I have a nebulizer at home" Sasti said.

Ahmad Sayedullah of Buldana Road said the smell was so bad that even a face mask did not help.

"You would not want to experience the smell again. This went on the entire night," he said.

Kamroozaman Khan of Kashmir Road said they were taken by surprise and without any form of warning that chemicals were released into the air allegedly from the refinery.

"We were gasping for breath. We had to use the asthma pumps in order to make it through the ordeal. I immediately checked on my extended family. This is unacceptable. Attention is given once the issue is discussed. Later all is forgotten. It will be brushed aside as another pollution issue," Khan said.

Fatima Madari said her four children could not breathe. She kept using her asthma pump for air. Madari said her house still had the foul smell Tuesday.

"I am a heart patient. I had fainted and my chest became painful. My son also passed out gasping for air. We feared that we would die. We were panicking. We are not trained on what to do or who to call in an emergency like this.It was scary. We are lucky to be alive," Madari said.

Safoora Moosa said her family sat in one room with the windows and doors shut until the early morning. Her six year old son awakened coughing and sneezing.

"Before we smelt anything our eyes were burning and we felt nauseated,"she said.

Engen spokesperson Gavin Smith said that at approximately 10.15pm on Monday a small amount of Mercaptan was leaked from the Engen Refinery.

The release was detected immediately and isolated. He said an investigation is in progress to determine the cause.

The relevant authorities have been informed, he added.

D'Sa said the chemical is known to be lethal to health and can cause death by respiratory paralysis and it is an eye and respiratory tract irritant.

"It is also highly flammable and reacts to water, steam or acids to produce toxic, flammable vapours. It is well known as a fire hazard and the combustion produces irritating sulphur dioxide. When heated to decomposition,"he said.

However Smith explained that Mercaptan, also known as Methanethiol, is a pungent-smelling chemical injected into odourless gas as a safety mechanism to make the gas detectable. It is commonly found in LPG, the gas used as a fuel for home cooking and heating.

“Engen would like to assure the local community that the small amount released is not harmful. We wish to apologise sincerely for any anxiety that the odour caused,”

Engen invites members of the community to contact the Refinery’s 24-hour toll free number 0800 330 099 for further information.

Last week SDCEA reported that (Friday 17 and Saturday 18)a similar incident occurred.

D'Sa said the continuous independent air monitoring SDCEA does show a continuous trend of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) alongside other pollutants with numerous health effects.

Ethekwini municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the eThekwini’s health unit responded to complaints.

They have requested additional information from Engen refinery regarding the air pollution.

Daily News

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