Picture: Ray de Vries
Mopping-up operations are still under way at the uMsunduzi River in Pietermaritzburg after the collapse of colossal tanks at the Willowton factory that resulted in a spill of 1.6 million litres of oil and caustic soda last month.

Much of the oil flowed into the Baynespruit River, downstream into the uMsunduzi and uMgeni rivers all the way down to Inanda Dam.

The spill resulted in thousands of dead fish as far as 40km downstream from the factory.

Willowton Group said that the river and banks were cleared of visible product and that there was only a skeleton clean-up team on the river doing routine maintenance.

The company said Dr Mark Graham from GroundTruth was deployed to assist, and that a drone was used along the river specifically targeting inaccessible areas which clean-up teams could not get to.

“Initial feedback from the drone footage as well as ongoing specialist work in the field confirms that there is little or no product in the river.

“In the coming days, the specialists expect to provide confirmation that demobilisation of the spill clean- up crews and booms can take place,” said Willowton Group spokesperson David Sweidan.

The company shied away from giving definitive answers as to whether or not the water was fit for consumption.

“Water quality results from accredited laboratories are being received and the specialists are in the process of providing initial feedback on them. These will be circulated to the authorities in due course,” he said.

The factory pledged further assistance to communities affected by the massive spill and to assist in both the short- and long-term rehabilitation of communities by installing JoJo tanks and boreholes as a solution to water provisions.

Willowton said it had committed to training 25 unemployed community members every six months and to ensure that females qualified as code 14 drivers at the company.

Department of Water spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said they had received the first report investigating the cause of the incident and the way forward from Willowton Group and were assessing it. Ratau said they would take action should the company be found to have been non-compliant in terms of the National Water Act.

“The department continues to monitor compliance with the Section 20 Directive of National Water Act, by Willowton Group. This is done through inspections and taking samples of the affected water resources,” added Ratau.

Last week, communities in the surrounding areas staged a protest outside the company gates. Their grievances included drinking and fishing water contamination and the killing of crops. Several people living in the Valley of a Thousand Hills claimed the water killed their livestock.

None of the cases was confirmed by the departments investigating the spill.

Sunday Tribune