UPL Chemicals denies involvement in eThekwini river pollution crisis

The fire at the UPL South Africa (Pty) Ltd warehouse in Cornubia during the July 2021 unrest resulted in a chemical spill into nearby water and vegetation sources. Picture: Supplied

The fire at the UPL South Africa (Pty) Ltd warehouse in Cornubia during the July 2021 unrest resulted in a chemical spill into nearby water and vegetation sources. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 25, 2024


UPL South Africa (Pty) Ltd, whose warehouse facility in Cornubia was torched by looters during the July 2021 unrest, denied contributing to the water pollution problem in the eThekwini Municipality.

The chemical company was responding to claims made by the eThekwini Municipality that it contaminated the areas surrounding the warehouse more than two and a half years after the attack on its facility.

Company spokesperson Loftus Marais said UPL has worked under the direction of the responsible government agencies to clean up the spillage.

UPL also said it managed contamination levels at the pollution control dam (PCD) on the Cornubia site, in line with the direction the government gave them, and added that the recent heavy rains disturbed their progress in damming and diking the spillage.

“The PCD was just one of many measures put in place to help contain the spill that resulted from the attack on UPL’s Cornubia facility,” it said.

The PCD overflowed during the heavy rains and that runoff was also tested for contaminants.

Marias indicated that UPL tested the area around its PCD before and after the rain and found that the substance concentrations detected did not pose an environmental risk or a human health risk.

“The extensive remediation and rehabilitation process undertaken by UPL and the team of independent experts is ongoing. Promisingly, animal and plant life have returned to many areas of the system. Experts have also led trials revegetating areas of the system, which have led to successes.

“Pleasingly, the specialists have confirmed that there is no longer any public health concern in the beach exclusion zone which arose from the arson incident,” UPL said.

IOL was questioning the city about the state of rivers in eThekwini as per the monthly reports compiled by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS).

This, according to many water experts, is a result of the untreated sewage discharged by Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW) facilities, which are not functioning at optimum levels.

All 11 of the 2023 reports available show that a majority of the rivers in the municipality are in critical condition in terms of E. coli concentrations.

E. coli is the indicator used to measure the amount of faeces in a water source. The more faeces in the water, the higher the E. coli count will be.

Municipality spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said that there was no sewage crisis in the city and that the polluted rivers were not a result of non-functional WWTW’s but because of other various reasons.

One of the reasons for polluted rivers, according to the city, was the UPL chemical spill damage.

The chemical spillage occurred after political tensions in KwaZulu-Natal were stirred and boiled over into a full-blown civil unrest.

Rioters attacked the UPL facility and set fire to it, causing the release of harmful toxins into the environment.

“There is also no justification for anyone to draw the conclusion that pollution or contamination in rivers is due to the city’s negligence.

“The land surrounding the warehouse has been contaminated with an assortment of chemical products and remains contaminated nearly two and a half years later.

“The chemical 2,4,5 T found in tests on the warehouse platform, in the Pollution Control Dam, the unnamed tributary, the estuary and even in the bivalves found in the open sea is extremely concerning,” Sisilana said.