Environmentalists concerned over purple Umbilo River

2015-02-11 00:00

ENVIRONMENTAL activists have raised concern over the polluting of the Umbilo River in Pinetown, which ran purple after an industrial fire at the weekend.

A warehouse in the Mahogany Ridge Industrial Park in Westmead is ­understood to have been razed by fire ­after the blaze started on Saturday and burnt through the night.

Chemicals housed by the factory are said to have been washed into the nearby river, changing the colour and tainting the water with a pungent smell.

In the wake of the emergency, environmental activists have warned of the long-term effects to be felt by ecosystems that depend on the river to survive.

Environmental health campaigner and epidemiologist Rico Euripidou said that it is imperative to establish what chemicals were contained at the site.

“Industries that produce and store chemicals need to meet stringent criteria in terms of how dangerous compounds are stored.

“Some chemicals are persistent, meaning they stay in the environment and they don’t break down. They too will have a significant effect on fauna and ­flora. The category of the chemicals would determine how they are handled so it is imperative that we find out what was in those drums.”

Resident Belinda Grant said she had noticed large amounts of foam that had gathered on the surface of the water as she was driving past the river.

“I was driving early on Sunday ­morning and I noticed all the foam which had formed on the surface. I stopped and took some pictures and I met another resident who said that they had raised the alarm with the municipality,” she said.

Grant added that the pungent aroma of chemicals had overwhelmed her.

“There was an overwhelming ­chemical smell in the air and it was ­actually choking. I tried to trace the source of where the pollution was ­coming from and I started travelling up the river. I could see the river and it was purple everywhere. I followed the smell and it led me straight to the factory that was on fire. I can only presume it was from there.”

eThekwini spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said water used to extinguish the fire had mixed with chemicals that had been contained in drums on the site, and entered the storm water drains ­before they could be sealed off. “This polluted water entered the Umbilo River and caused a lot of foam,” she said.

“Control measures such as the sealing of the storm water drains are in place to prevent further polluted water from entering the Umbilo River and a spill clean-up company is on site to clean up any contaminated water. The clean-up company has already pumped 160 000 litres of the contained polluted water up into tankers to be disposed of at an appropriate waste disposal facility.”

• jeff.wicks@witness.co.za

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