A fire at the United Phosphorus Limited warehouse in Cornubia in July resulted in a chemical spill. Picture: Supplied.
A fire at the United Phosphorus Limited warehouse in Cornubia in July resulted in a chemical spill. Picture: Supplied.

UPL raises concern about multi-stakeholder forum on Cornubia warehouse chemical spill

By Karen Singh Time of article published Oct 24, 2021

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DURBAN - United Phosphorus Limited (UPL) did not attend yesterday’s launch of the multi-stakeholder forum formed to disseminate information about the chemical spill from its leased warehouse in Cornubia.

Pesticide and agro-chemicals spilled into the Ohlanga River, uMhlanga Estuary and the sea as a result of a fire at UPL’s leased warehouse in Cornubia during the July unrest and looting.

KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (Edtea), Ravi Pillay, launched the multi-stakeholder forum yesterday.

In a statement yesterday, UPL said the company’s legal team has written to Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Department, indicating that it will not be attending the launch.

This follows a letter sent to the department on October 15, 2021 in which UPL raised a number of concerns regarding the draft Terms of Reference (TOR) for the forum, said the statement.

“The decision to launch the forum before settling its terms of reference is highly unfortunate, and could have been avoided. UPL is disappointed that the opportunity to launch the forum with UPL’s wholehearted support has been lost,” it said.

UPL said the draft TOR was sent out for public comment without any prior consultation with the company and that since receiving UPL’s letter of concerns regarding the forum there has been no further engagement at all.

“In launching the forum without resolving its terms of reference, the impression has been created that UPL has accepted the proposals contained in these draft documents, when that is not the case,” said the statement.

It said UPL has objected to the overly broad mandate that was proposed for the forum and the extensive powers accorded to it. This confuses the roles of government with those of stakeholders and makes it potentially unworkable, it said.

“UPL believes that the terms of reference of the forum go well beyond the specific actions the EDTEA is empowered to take under s30 of the National Environmental Management Act (Nema), under which UPL is performing its clean up operations. It also takes the view that the objectionable aspects in the draft TOR are not required for government to achieve its objectives in terms of the Act.

“Notwithstanding that, UPL agrees that it is important that all stakeholders, including the surrounding communities, are kept informed of developments since the arson attack on its leased Cornubia warehouse, and that the forum has an important role in that regard. It has indicated its willingness to engage with EDTEA to assist it in that role, but without the other objectionable aspects of the forum’s TOR,”it said.

UPL said it is committed to transparency and openness and is more than willing to work with government and stakeholders

In a statement today, the department said a nine-member interim steering committee was established and announced at a meeting held with stakeholders in uMhlanga yesterday.

The committee appointed by the MEC will hold office for two years and will be responsible for co-ordinating and managing the multi-stakeholder forum.

Members of the steering committee include Kesha Naidoo, Rico Euripidou, Francine Hattingh, Desmond D’Sa, Bongani Mthembu, Allimuthu Perumal, Kirsten Youens, Kwanele Msizazwe and Kamini Krishna. The convener of the committee is Jeremy Ridl.

“The interim steering committee will be responsible for finalising the terms of reference for the multi-stakeholder forum and will, within 30 days, convene a meeting of all stakeholders to nominate twenty people,”said Edtea

From those 20 people, the department said the MEC would appoint a committee of not more than 15 members.

The multi-stakeholder forum will be inclusive and representative of all stakeholders and it is envisaged that it will:

  • Act as a conduit for the dissemination of information to communities affected by this incident.
  • Create an environment for interested and affected parties to engage meaningfully with each other, the authorities and UPL South Africa.
  • Make co-ordinated input into all relevant processes, studies and investigations being undertaken on all aspects of the pollution incident.

The department said the establishment of this forum is a fulfilment of the government’s commitment to transparency on the UPL chemical spill incident and other related matters.

“The idea of the multi-stakeholder forum was borne out of the recognition that the public has a right to be informed of matters that affect the environment, their health or well-being and that as the government we have an obligation to disclose information that is in the public interest.” said Pillay

A repository where reports and other relevant documents are posted to ensure easy access to all interested and affected parties has been established.

The website www.cornubiaenviroinfo.co.za has been up and running for more than a week now.

THE MERCURY

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