Chemical factory absolves itself of fire blame

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The burned down UPL Chemical Factory in Cornubia, Durban. PHOTO: Thabiso Goba
The burned down UPL Chemical Factory in Cornubia, Durban. PHOTO: Thabiso Goba

The UPL chemical factory in Cornubia has absolved itself of any blame for the toxic smell in Durban North that was caused by the factory being set alight by looters.

Following the torching of the chemical warehouse on July 12, toxic chemicals overflowed into the nearby rivers and beaches and killed some marine life.

Toxic fumes emanating from the torched warehouse has led to the eThekwini Municipality sending out a health alert to nearby residents.

However, in a statement released by UPL’s (United Phosphorus Limited) spokesperson, Craig Dodds, on Monday, they insist all their security and containment protocols were in place but a delayed response from the eThekwini fire department exacerbated the situation.

Dodds said the products stored in the warehouse were water-based and had low fire risk, adding that the event was beyond the company’s control.

“The prospects of a cataclysmic fire, in the absence of the extraordinary circumstances that occurred in this instance, was extremely low,” he said.

“Because a significant volume of water was used to extinguish the fire, and due to the delayed response of the spill response cleaning services amid the ongoing unrest, the product that was not vapourised and the water from the fire operations overwhelmed the containment system and escaped into the environment,” said Dodds.

“The designed fire and containment systems were more than adequate, in ordinary circumstances, to have enabled the facility and the relevant authorities to contain a fire and any associated spillage of product.”

Dodds said UPL was advised that the leasing and operating of a warehouse for its products did not trigger an environmental assessment under the NEMA (National Environmental Management Act) regulations.

“The Cornubia warehouse was located in an appropriately zoned facility that, in the opinion of its technical staff and external consultants, was fit for purpose. The facility was equipped with the necessary infrastructure to manage incidents of the kind reasonably expected,” said Dodds.

He added that containment efforts are still happening at the site.

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