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Three big chemical and fuel fires choked the residents of Durban in 2021 and left many sick and three dead

The UPL chemical factory that burnt down and contaminating the air, water and soil in the surrounding areas such as uMhlanga, Cornubia, Durban North and Blackburn informal settlement. Picture:Tumi Pakkies/African News Agency (ANA)

The UPL chemical factory that burnt down and contaminating the air, water and soil in the surrounding areas such as uMhlanga, Cornubia, Durban North and Blackburn informal settlement. Picture:Tumi Pakkies/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Dec 30, 2021

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DURBAN – Big smoke plumes from three fires choked Durban residents in 2021.

The first was UPL South Africa in July, KZN Resins in August and Transnet pipeline in October.

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UPL South Africa

During the week of civil unrest in July, the UPL South Africa warehouse in Cornubia, north of Durban, was allegedly looted and set alight, sending a smoke plume into the sky and the smell could be sensed kilometres away in neighbouring suburbs.

People living in the vicinity of the warehouse experienced dry throats, dry noses, dermal irritation and eye irritation.

Water used to battle the blaze washed off into nearby water streams, polluting the freshwater supply, killing off animals and marine life.

Nearby beaches had to be closed.

Entities such as the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment and the South African Police Service investigated not only the fire but the company.

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The government laid criminal charges against UPL South Africa.

After months of investigations, a joint preliminary investigation into a compliance profile report has revealed that UPL South Africa did not have the environmental authorisation nor the critical risk assessment or planning permissions needed to operate.

In October the KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Ravi Pillay launched the multi-stakeholder forum into the UPL chemical spill.

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KZN Resins gutted by fire on Balfour Road in the south of Durban. Picture:Bongani Mbatha /African News Agency (ANA)

KZN Resins

Toxic fumes spread across the south of Durban when a fire broke out at KZN Resins factory in Jacobs in the early hours of August 25.

While there were no injuries reported, multiple firefighters and the South African Police Service were on the scene to try and control the blaze.

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However, it flared up again a few hours later.

Some residents had complained of chest pains, itchy eyes and coughing.

Affected areas included Wentworth and Merebank, but because of a change in wind direction, Clairwood, Montclair, the Bluff and Mobeni were at risk.

The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) raised the alarm bells over an “environmental catastrophe waiting to happen” when KZN Resins emitted toxic fumes into the air after a fire broke out.

SDCEA spokesperson Desmond D’Sa said the fire was a sign of a government that was failing to do its job as there was little to no safety and environmental oversight at factories due to a lack of qualified people.

A huge blaze of fire in Jacobs, South of Durban after criminals allegedly tried to tamper with a fuel line to steal, sparking the large blaze, leaving three dead. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA)

Transnet

Three people were killed when they allegedly tried to steal fuel from a Transnet pipeline in Clairwood, south of Durban, on October 31.

Residents in the area were woken up by a series of explosions and saw thick black smoke and bright belting orange flames.

Smoke from the incident could be seen from nearby suburbs.

At least 270 people were left temporarily displaced.

A ward councillor advised residents to evacuate their houses for their own safety while the eThekwini Municipality advised residents to remain indoors if smoke was heavy as it posed a health risk, especially if they suffer from a respiratory illness, such as asthma, or conditions that lead to increased risk from smoke exposure.

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