UPL Limited has proposed releasing water contaminated by a pesticides spill in Durban into the sea or municipal sewers.
While the Indian agro-chemical firm said experts it contracted have since late 2021 deemed the water fit for disposal using these methods, the city says that as recently as April 11 storm-water contained in a pollution control dam “remained highly toxic to the environment.”
Concern about the spill and its after effects were heightened this month after the heaviest rains in at least 60 years caused the dam to overflow.
UPL’s warehouse was torched by looters during the July riots in KwaZulu-Natal last year and the fire released a range of dangerous chemicals into the air and nearby watercourses.
Significant numbers of fish died and beaches were closed as a result and residents complained about air pollution.
South Africa’s Environment Ministry has said UPL didn’t have the appropriate permits to store the chemicals, an allegation the company denied.
“With the significant reduction in contaminants of concern within the pollution control dam, a number of disposal options have become feasible and have been the subject of discussions with the authorities,” UPL said in a response to queries.
They include evaporation in specially lined ponds, slow release into the estuary and disposal into the sewerage system or sea.
UPL said it has provided the authorities with all the documentation needed to assess the water’s toxicity.
“The testing, management and operation of the pollution control dam are fully transparent,” it said.
The company and the local authorities are now at loggerheads as to how to evaluate the level of toxicity of the polluted water.
That’s not the view of the eThekwini Municipality, which includes greater Durban.
“The municipality has been provided with certain certificates, but not all the certificates have been made available,” it said in a response to queries.
“This lack of sharing of documentation with eThekwini Municipality is disconcerting,” it said, adding that the issue is being escalated to a government-convened committee.
UPL has been told to make a formal application to discharge the polluted water into the sea and have not yet done so, the city said.
While the city supports the option of allowing the water to evaporate in specially lined pools it “cannot be the sole solution.”
UPL said it couldn’t have prevented the recent overflow of its dam because of the “sheer volume and speed of the rainfall.”
The dam is now 63% full, which is more than 200% over “the designated safety level,” the city said.