Our Burning Planet

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Reports on the KZN UPL warehouse fire are misleading

Clean-up teams with respirators and chemical-resistant PPE wade through the toxic soup of chemicals left behind from the fire and fire-fighting efforts at the UPL plant in Cornubia, north of Durban. (Photo: Mlungisi Mbele)

The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs expresses its serious disappointment at the misleading article published in Daily Maverick on Tuesday on the subject of the United Phosphorus Limited fire.

See the article here.

Durban’s toxic warehouse: Ramaphosa urged to act on Cornubia chemical disaster

We find it very difficult to understand how the author selectively quotes from correspondence and does not disclose that the same correspondence also committed to transparency. Attached to that same correspondence was the inventory of chemicals supplied by United Phosphorus Limited (UPL) as well as the Section 30(6) directive issued to UPL in terms of the National Environmental Management Act.

This was supplied to the civil society organisation (South Durban Community Environmental Alliance) in terms of commitment made to them. The Joint Operations Committee (JOC) is an interdepartmental committee of national and provincial departments. Part of their task is to oversee investigative reports that could in the future become the basis of administrative or even criminal proceedings. UPL is not part of the JOC but would be expected to submit reports to it. 

As part of its commitment to work with civil society there have at least been three meetings with the SDCEA. Government departments, however, have to work with terms of the law and the steps prescribed in incidents of this nature. We are awaiting final expert reports for evaluation and to inform the action to be taken.

We cannot make statements or take action based on speculation. The issues at hand in the UPL matter will be dealt with thoroughly and professionally. Anyone who needs to face consequences will do so whether in terms of rehabilitative responsibility, public health issues or even criminal proceedings.

This, however, must be based on facts processed by the relevant experts. DM

Bheki Mbanjwa is the spokesperson for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs.

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