KZN environment MEC demands action over Maritzburg blaze pollution

24 August 2020 - 10:51 By NIVASHNI NAIR
A plastics factory in Pietemaritzburg burnt down on Sunday afternoon.
A plastics factory in Pietemaritzburg burnt down on Sunday afternoon.
Image: Supplied

Authorities were working together on Monday morning to gather information on the air pollution caused by a fire that gutted a plastic manufacturing factory on Sunday afternoon.

Economic development, tourism and environmental affairs MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube said a team of firefighters, environmentalists and other experts were deployed to deal with the fire that broke out on municipal land next to a plastics factory.

“The fire burnt down the factory containing plastic and equipment. The incident happened a few kilometres away from the New England landfill site,” she said.

A blaze at the landfill site recently raged for almost a week before firefighters managed to extinguish it.

Dube-Ncube has requested a formal report from an environmentalist who had been on the site of the factory fire on Sunday.

“Though I am still waiting for this formal report, I must hasten to point out that we won’t hesitate to take action against anyone found responsible for this air pollution. There is research which has shown that long-term exposure to pollutants such as fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide can reduce lung function and cause respiratory illness.

“These pollutants have also been shown to cause a persistent inflammatory response even in the relatively young and to increase the risk of infection by viruses that target the respiratory tract,” she said.

A week ago, Dube-Ncube briefed the portfolio committee on conservation and environmental affairs about the importance of clean air during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have stated as the department that as we move forward, our efforts will focus on ensuring that the private sector and all spheres of government work together to improve air quality. We are stepping up efforts aimed at cutting emissions and cleaning up the air for communities across the province. With many companies getting back to business, we are expecting an increase in pollution.”

She said there was “tranquillity” during the first weeks of the national lockdown.

“Many companies stopped production. The transport system around the world came to a grinding halt. Air and automobile travel was dramatically reduced. I have asked — how do these changes affect the quality of the air we breathe, and, if maintained, how might that affect our overall health and wellbeing?

“I have further questioned what lessons can we learn from this unique time that will help us to better manage air pollution once traditional travel and company production resumes?”

A comprehensive air quality strategy is being developed, with completion expected around October 30.

“This strategy will be implemented across all municipalities. Our long-term plan is to ensure that leaders of society, academics, big corporates, elected public representatives and communities adopt a single strategy to deal with air pollution.

“I have indicated that as the department we are fully aware that the air in the south Durban basin is heavily polluted, with many people experiencing respiratory illnesses. It can’t be business as usual,” Dube-Ncube said.