Coast KZN

03 Oct 2021

DFFE refuses to reopen beaches without chemical spill findings peer review

James Anderson (North Coast Courier) Picture: Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy at the announcement of her department's preliminary findings this morning.

Beaches from the Umgeni River Mouth to Salt Rock remain closed as the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DFFE) wait for a peer-reviewed report from the USA. The continued closure was confirmed by DFFE minister, Barbara Creecy at a media briefing at the Coastlands Hotel in Umhlanga this morning.

The beaches were closed after a chemical spill into the oHlanga tributary and uMhlanga Estuary on July 13 after a United Phosphorus Limited (UPL) warehouse was set alight during the unrest. UPL recently released a report claiming that beaches were safe to open and that a much smaller exclusion zone was needed, but the DFFE has chosen to wait for further analysis from an objective third party.

“There are concerns from the public about the efficacy of said report, which is why we have sent the findings to be peer-reviewed in the USA and continue to wait for the analysis,” said Creecy.

The report is expected to arrive in 2 weeks time.

The department released their preliminary findings of the investigation into UPL, as well as the corresponding environmental and health impact in the surrounding ecosystem and communities.

“Empirical evidence shows that an entire ecosystem, which includes the oHlanga tributary, the uMhlanga estuary, the beaches and the coastal environment, not only in the vicinity of the UPL, but for several kilometres to the north of the uMhlanga estuary mouth, has been seriously impacted and may take several years to recover from this incident.

“In the days following the fire, the air quality in the immediate facility was also affected,” said Creecy.

The department has taken a 3-step priority process in the investigation, namely containing the environmental damage, overseeing the clean-up and remediation and finally, investigating the liability of UPL. Creecy reaffirmed that this remained an emergency situation and all relevant steps were being taken to ensure the safety of residents and visitors to the affected areas.

“Beaches along this stretch of the KwaZulu-Natal north coast remain closed, and subsistence and recreational fishing, as well as the use of any marine living resources in the area remained prohibited.  “The impact on ecotourism in Umhlanga, and the reserve, will be felt for a considerable period of time,” she said.

The department said a criminal case had been opened against UPL, who were found to have opened without requisite authorisation. As part of the investigation, samples have been and are continuing to be taken of sand, plant matter, water, air quality, dead fish and crustacea. To date, more than 13 000 tonnes of contaminated solids and 23.4 million litres of contaminated liquids have been removed from the site and the affected environment.

This is a developing story.