KZN beaches partially reopened after UPL toxic spill

Fishing and harvesting of marine resources on the coastline between uMgeni River Mouth and Salt Rock remain prohibited

02 November 2021 - 11:40
Spill technicians have been cleaning up the chemical mess after tonnes of toxic waste leaked into the environment surrounding the UPL warehouse in Cornubia in July
Spill technicians have been cleaning up the chemical mess after tonnes of toxic waste leaked into the environment surrounding the UPL warehouse in Cornubia in July
Image: Theo Japhta

Beaches from the uMgeni River Mouth to Salt Rock on KwaZulu-Natal’s Dolphin Coast are set to reopen for recreational purposes — excluding fishing — on Tuesday after being closed for almost four months. 

The closure of the beaches emanated from toxic waste which spewed out of an agrichemical warehouse in Cornubia, north of Durban, during the unrest in July. 

The UPL chemical warehouse was torched during the unrest and looting, unleashing tonnes of waste into the environment which resulted in a massive R250m cleanup operation. 

On Saturday, economic development, tourism and environmental affairs MEC Ravi Pillay  announced the beaches would be significantly, but not completely, reopened on Tuesday. 

The decision followed recommendations of a peer review of a specialists’ report on the safety of the beaches.   

The report recommended beaches be reopened for recreational purposes, but that an “exclusion zone” of 1km north and south of the uMhlanga estuary mouth, and 1km out to sea, in which all activities remain prohibited, should be maintained.

The result will see 96% of the beaches that had been closed reopening for recreational purposes, while fishing or harvesting of marine resources remain prohibited.

“All fishing and harvesting of marine resources (shore angling and the harvesting, utilisation and consumption of shellfish) between the uMgeni River Mouth to Salt Rock and 1km out to sea remain prohibited. The national department of forestry, fisheries and environment will make a decision on the reopening of this zone at the appropriate time,” the statement read. 

UPL welcomed the announcement by Pillay. 

Japhet Ncube, spokesperson for UPL SA, said they would continue working on remediation and rehabilitation programmes in the affected areas.

“Going forward UPL’s team of independent specialists will continue to assess the impact of the spill on the environment, and the potential impact on human health in the surrounding business and residential communities.”

UPL, an international chemical giant headquartered in India, saw its 14,000m2 warehouse set alight on July 12. It burnt for 10 days before firefighters were able to properly extinguish the blaze.

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