Coast KZN

21 Jul 2019

Environmental reservations amid oil jobs joy

Dave Savides (Zululand Observer)

For many, oil refineries and air pollution are synonymous.  From Tableview and Milnerton on the outskirts of Cape Town to the south Durban communities of Wentworth, Merebank and the Bluff, tens of thousands of residents would quite happily spit out a million dirty words opposing any proposed new oil refinery, based on their own experience.

From asthma, to chest complaints, cancer and even leukemia, those who have caught the fallout from these (mainly) sulphur dioxide-bellowing tanks tell the story of the upshot of poorly-planned and badly-legislated and -monitored industries.

And so, while those caught in the claws of an embattled economy are doing handsprings in anticipation of the major Saudi investment – a staggering R100-billion plus deal – the ‘caution’ lights are justifiably on, even at this early phase when little is known of the details. There are a few factors that will mitigate against Richards Bay becoming a potential ‘cancer valley’, as south Durban was once referred to.

When the first oil refinery was established in Durban in 1954, not only were EIAs (Environmental Impact Assessments) unheard of; there were also no legally enforceable air pollution standards to control emissions or punish offenders.


What is also overlooked is that the politics of the day meant that the poor (mainly black) populations that were forced to live in squalid townships, downwind or downstream of polluting industries, bore the brunt of the contamination.

Yes, environmental injustice was also one of apartheid’s separate development lethal legacies: who cared if ‘they’ inhaled that toxic waste?In the case of the proposed new petro-chemical plant, it may well be that the location – one assumes it will be somewhere south of the Port of Richards Bay – does impact on the residents of eSikhaleni, who lie in the path of the prevailing northeasterly and southwesterly winds.

The town also has an existing pollution load, so the cumulative or ‘cocktail’ effect must be considered.All this, of course, will be part of an extensive EIA process that will involve all stakeholders.

Thankfully, there is adequate legislation now in place to ensure the best outcome.Also, we are fortunate to have the highly respected Richards Bay Clean Air Association, with it’s more than two decades as a pollution watchdog, monitoring air quality, and whose members include the major industries.

They have been at pains to say they are not opposed to industrial growth, but are in favour of responsible development that creates employment without compromising the green environment or human health.That’s the best of both worlds.