The UPL warehouse in Cornubia, north of Durban, was set alight and burned to the ground by looters during the week-long unrest in July. I Tumi Pakkies/African News Agency (ANA)
The UPL warehouse in Cornubia, north of Durban, was set alight and burned to the ground by looters during the week-long unrest in July. I Tumi Pakkies/African News Agency (ANA)

List of chemicals razed in Durban factory during looting leaked, but firm remains tight-lipped

By Thobeka Ngema Time of article published Aug 20, 2021

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Durban - AN ALLEGED United Phosphorus Limited (UPL) list which shows the number of chemicals that went up in smoke at the company’s warehouse in Cornubia, north of Durban, during the recent week-long civil unrest has been leaked to the Daily News.

The paper is in possession of the leaked document obtained from highly placed sources, however the company has yet to confirm or acknowledge it.

The company has still not responded to questions despite being given an opportunity to do so on several occasions. The list, called UPL Cornubia – FINAL Product Volumes and Classification_05-08-2021, is also marked “privileged and confidential”. It has 724 products on it, including herbicides, insecticides, surfactants, biocides, reactants, adjuvants, fungicides, markers, dyes, seed treatments, fumigants, antifoam, plant nutrition, solvents and sterilisers.

Some of the products include atrazine, chlorpyrifos, deltamethrin, cypermethrin, dicamba, paraquat, ammonium acetate, glyphosate and dimethoate.

Research revealed that these chemicals can cause short- and long-term health effects. Acute effects include stinging eyes, rashes, blisters, blindness, nausea, dizziness, diarrhoea and death, while chronic effects include cancers, birth defects, reproductive harm, and neurological and developmental toxicity.

DA eThekwini councillor Rory Macpherson said they heard through reliable sources that the test results from the water samples were back from the UK but were concerned about why the results were not released.

“The DA is disappointed that no independent tests were taken and we are reliant on UPL providing these results. It’s urgent that we get the full, original results,” Macpherson said.

He said they were still unclear whether UPL went through a full environmental impact assessment to store the level of toxins that has now come to light, and there was no independent assessment of whether there were sufficient safety measures in place.

“We are also disappointed that we haven’t seen an original manifesto of the pesticides and poisons that they kept – to date there are only copies. What would be the right thing for the public to see is a dated one – the original manifesto dated on Friday before the fire happened,” he said.

Macpherson said they needed to know what long-term and short-term risks there were for those who breathed the air, and those for animal and marine life.

“It really is a disaster and we’re not getting any positive news at all. We’re annoyed.”

He said it seemed there was no assistance from UPL for those affected, no counselling, no third party or representative from UPL that he knew of, no resources were made available to have people tested and provide medical assistance.

Macpherson said they were committed to uncover the truth of what really happened and would continue to try get the information and provide it to the public.

Makro Cornubia, which is next to the UPL warehouse, was also affected.

Massmart Group corporate affairs senior vice-president Brian Leroni said Massmart engaged external advisers on the matter on July 19.

“One result of this advice was that we procured the services of independent air quality, occupational hygienist, toxicological and food safety specialists who have provided specialist advice regarding actions required to ensure the safe re-opening of Makro Cornubia,” Leroni said.

“The results of the various tests indicated that no air quality or occupational risks were present. In addition, the eThekwini Municipality provided Massmart with recommendations that needed to be fulfilled prior to opening the store.”

He said they also disposed of perishable goods, changed air filters and deep-cleaned the store and its precincts. Afterwards, they re-opened the store in line with the municipal directive and scientific test results.

Earlier this month, Parliament’s portfolio committee on environment, forestry and fisheries visited to assess the environmental impact of the warehouse fire. There were presentations by all parties and a joint task team was expected to complete its preliminary report by the end of the month and provide recommendations.

Daily News

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