UPL consulted a doctor to assist those who were exposed to the warehouse fire in Cornubia when it was set alight last week. I eThekwini Municipality
UPL consulted a doctor to assist those who were exposed to the warehouse fire in Cornubia when it was set alight last week. I eThekwini Municipality

Live near Cornubia? What to do now after warehouse fire exposure

By Thobeka Ngema Time of article published Jul 21, 2021

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DURBAN - DRY throats, dry noses, dermal irritation and eye irritation were some of the symptoms people living in the vicinity of the Cornubia warehouse fire have experienced since last week.

Glen Hills Ratepayers’ Association chairperson Pete Graham said: “Not only have I received complaints, I have suffered myself, the dry throat, the morning hangover feeling and nasal irritation.”

Their biggest challenge was that they knew it was a pesticides factory, but it took longer to know exactly what the problem was in terms of the chemicals released into the atmosphere. They also did not know what the ramifications were of the toxins in the air.

Following an oversight visit at the uMhlanga Lagoon and other sites on Tuesday, DA KZN spokesperson on Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Heinz de Boer said the public had a right to know what chemicals, pesticides or toxic substances were stored at the warehouse that burned down last week during the civil unrest in the province.

They also needed to be informed of the plans to contain further environmental pollution.

“Dead fish now litter the uMhlanga Lagoon, while nearby marine species are dying en masse,” said De Boer.

“These yet unknown pollutants continue to leak into the river while the fire has reignited and continues to cause respiratory distress and skin irritation in nearby communities.”

The warehouse in question, UPL, acknowledged that communities were anxious to receive more information on the ongoing remediation efforts and the containment of the crop solution products that may have been released into the environment following the fire.

Although the fire was doused, debris continued to smoulder while parts of the structure have had to be demolished to allow firefighters to safely douse these remaining areas. That is expected to be completed on Wednesday. Experts on-site have contained surface water run-off and were in the process of investigating and controlling groundwater contamination.

When UPL consulted Dr Gerhard Verdoorn on Monday, they provided him with a list of the crop solution products stored in the warehouse and were requested to provide guidance on the possible health implications posed by a release of these products into the environment.

“In his view, there is a minimal risk of any long-term effects to the health of people exposed to smoke from the warehouse. However, exposure in the short term to some of the chemicals contained in the crop solution products may result in dermal, eye and respiratory irritation,” said UPL. “The situation is being closely monitored and to date, no cases of acute human toxicity have been reported.”

Advice from the warehouse:

• Dry throats can be relieved by flushing with salty water and then gargling with extra virgin olive oil.

• People with asthmatic conditions and very young infants must avoid the immediate surroundings of the Cornubia warehouse.

• Dry noses should be lubricated with nasal tract remedies that are available from pharmacies or pure petroleum gel (not menthol rubs).

• Dermal and eye irritation is best resolved by washing with soft soap and cold water. • Seek medical advice if concerns arise.

Daily News

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