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Environmental remediation under way after Cornubia warehouse fire

AQUATIC ecologist Mark Graham explained how the water pollution occurred and the extent of the damage it caused on marine animals and plant when the UPL warehouse in Cornubia burnt and the chemicals ended up contaminating the nearby river. I Tumi Pakkies African News Agency (ANA)

AQUATIC ecologist Mark Graham explained how the water pollution occurred and the extent of the damage it caused on marine animals and plant when the UPL warehouse in Cornubia burnt and the chemicals ended up contaminating the nearby river. I Tumi Pakkies African News Agency (ANA)

Published Sep 2, 2021

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DURBAN - REMEDIATION efforts were under way in and around the United Phosphorus Limited (UPL) warehouse in Cornubia, which burnt down in July.

This was after an extensive containment and clean-up operation led to the containment of all run-off from the site, pollution control and construction of treatment dams.

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GroundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa) environmental health campaigner Rico Euripidou said remediation is undertaken based on a decision framework and at what levels to remediate that receiving environment.

“A pesticide or heavy metals contamination would need a decision based on what level is it safe for the public and that is your target to which you will remediate; you will keep your remediation going until you reach that specific target concentration for whatever it is you are worried about.”

Euripidou said all of those decisions could only be made on the basis of information being publicly available.

“The biggest problem with UPL now is that no information is publicly available. UPL has not publicly made available the list of all the chemicals, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, whatever chemicals they stored in that warehouse. They haven’t made it publicly available … it’s been leaked.”

According to a UPL statement issued on Wednesday, containment began when two specialist firms were appointed to remove waste and polluted water.

It also said that more than 100 spill response staff have been working daily with supersuckers employed to remove contaminated water from streams.

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“Laboratory test results to determine the most effective water treatment options are expected imminently, which will enable accelerated bioremediation efforts to address any remaining contamination.”

UPL said the response strategy was divided into containment, clean-up, remediation, impact assessment and rehabilitation and monitoring phases.

“Specialist teams of environmental engineers, hydrologists and aquatic ecologists have formulated a risk mitigation strategy to remove the bulk of contaminated water and sediments from the stream to the confluence with the Ohlanga River.

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“In the wetlands, the most polluted sediments are being physically removed for appropriate hazardous waste disposal. These wetland systems are rapidly being repurposed, engineered and designed to act as long-term bioremediation cells, or bio-processors, and to assist in the longer-term remediation and then rehabilitation of any residual pollutants that may remain trapped in the system.”

Air sampling results showed elevated levels of dust, ammonia and sulphur dioxide during the fire, but these reduced significantly after it was extinguished. Further reviews, analyses and monitoring were continuing.

“On the site of the warehouse, steel, rubble and concrete debris is having to be made safe, sorted, cleaned, and removed for safe hazardous waste disposal, while specialist clean-up teams access the surfaces and undertake deep-clean and neutralisation of residual pollutants. A large, lined pollution holding dam has been constructed off the site to capture and contain any further run-off.”

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