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UPL warehouse fire spewed dangerous chemicals in SA, report says

‘The impact significance is rated to be ‘very high.’’
Image: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

A fire at a South African warehouse used by UPL Ltd., the world’s fifth-biggest agrochemicals company, released a range of harmful chemicals across a wide area, according to a report released by the provincial government.

On July 13, looters set the warehouse in the southeastern city of Durban on fire, causing a chemical spill that resulted in a significant fish die-off, the closing of beaches, and complaints from residents about air pollution. South Africa’s Environment Ministry has said UPL didn’t have the appropriate permits to store the chemicals and, along with the owners of the land where the warehouse is situated, may be liable for criminal prosecution. UPL has refuted the allegations.

“The scale is considered to be ‘regional,’” Airshed Planning Professionals, which carried out the research, said in the report. “The impact significance is rated to be ‘very high.’”

Among the gases released were sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen cyanide, Airshed said. Unburnt pesticides also settled over the area, where plumes of gas extended as high as 300 meters (984 feet). The gases released can cause respiratory problems ranging from irritation of the larynx to oxygen deprivation.

UPL said, in a response to queries, that bbbthe report was a “well researched and very helpful assessment.” The India-based company said it accepts “the fact that there would have been short-term health effects, but that such health effects were certainly reversible.”

South Africa’s parliament has said the company should be held to account and that by November 24 it had paid R247 million ($16 million) for a clean-up operation.

amaBhungane, a South African investigative news organisation, reported on the study earlier.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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