At least 27 people, including several schoolchildren, were rushed to hospital or treated by ambulance staff on Thursday afternoon after another chlorine gas leak at Umbogintwini, south of Durban.

The leak, which was reported 30km away in Glenwood, emanated from the same factory responsible for the gassing of more than 100 schoolchildren in Isipingo four months ago.

It also coincided with an invitation to residents of south Durban to gather at public meetings in Merebank, Austerville and the Bluff next week to protest about the health and air pollution problems highlighted in The Mercury this week.

The latest gas leak from Sasol Polymers (formerly Polifin) happened just after noon and affected several people close to the factory as well as residents and children in Lotus Park, Isipingo, about 2,5km away.

Kim Fraser, general manager of the company's chemical division, said the cause of the leak was not clear, although it seemed to have come from a loading area where chlorine cylinders are filled for water-purification purposes.

Fraser apologised for the incident and said his company would pay for all medical costs.

At Strelitzia Secondary School, at least four pupils - Shantal Isaac, Romano Govender, Sifanile Mabida and Fiona Abdul - were affected, said headmaster Nanda Nair.

Orissa Primary School head Anand Attwarie said several children complained of chest pains or sore throats, and one child, 12-year-old Siyanda Gambushe, had gone into convulsions.

A spokesperson for Kingsway Hospital at Amanzimtoti confirmed that 25 people were treated at the hospital and four were expected to remain overnight for observation.

On May 5, nearly 120 children or teachers from Strelitzia Secondary School were affected or given medical treatment after a similar leak from the Sasol Polymers plant. The factory was closed after the May incident and only reopened a few weeks ago.

Linda Ambler, of the environmental justice group "groundWork", said the latest incident showed that reopening the factory had been premature and indicated that the necessary safety, health and environmental safeguards were not yet in place.

"The incident comes against a backdrop of growing discontent in south Durban about industrial pollution, and 'groundWork' is deeply concerned and disappointed at the apparent disregard shown by industries and the government for community health.

"Both the government and polluting industries need to spend more time, finances and resources on protecting the health of South Africans."

  • Meanwhile, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) has invited residents to a series of "Speak Out!" protest meetings next week to demand a comprehensive health study in the area.

    The meetings will be held at 7pm at Austerville Civic Centre, Austerville Drive (Tuesday), Merebank Community Centre, Dharwar Road (Thursday) and Brighton Beach School, 460 Marine Drive, Bluff (Friday).

    For more information phone: Michelle Simon, project SDCEA co-ordinator, at (031) 461-1991; Desmond D'Sa, of the Wentworth Development Forum, at 461-2264; the Bluff Peninsula Ratepayers' Association at 467-3016 or the Merebank Residents' Association at 461-1640.