UPL South Africa specialists brief interim Multi-Stakeholder Forum
Yesterday, UPL South Africa hosted an orientation meeting for members of the interim Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF) where its team of specialists presented on the work that has been conducted over the past year, following the arson attack on its Cornubia Warehouse on 12 July 2021. Officials from the eThekwini municipality also attended the meeting.
Presentations were delivered on air quality, human health, freshwater environment, wetlands, geology, groundwater, coastal and marine environments including sampling, clean up, remediation and rehabilitation work undertaken and success achieved over the past year.
Their work has included ongoing water, sediment and air testing as well as assessing certain parts of the food chain’s (trophic levels) health in the ecosystem and conducting and supervising, amongst other things, toxicity, herpetological (snakes/frogs), vegetation and entomological (insect) surveys of the site.
Some of the key findings presented to the interim MSF members include:
Air quality surveys: continuous monitoring and testing for pollutants during and after the fire revealed that, once the fire was extinguished harmful pollutants were substantially lower while air borne dust samples no longer contained arsenic.
Water quality surveys: ongoing testing of the estuary and marine environments show that metal levels of arsenic, manganese, copper and zinc are now below the guideline levels set for the South African coast (including estuaries). The emphasis remains on continuing to decontaminate the warehouse site, the tributary and the lower wetland, which will in turn see further significant improvements in the estuary environment. When it comes to the Pollution Control Dam, analysis from independent laboratories has shown low levels of residual pesticides present, and low overall toxicity. Scientific modelling, which looks at a number of factors, suggests that this water is now safe to release into the system as, when combined with the water already there, it will reach such significant dilution levels as to pose no harm to the environment.
Geohydrological and Soil surveys: the soil and sediment samples in the tributary and estuary show some residual organic and inorganic impacts, however the levels have decreased significantly when compared to the initial sampling event. Some of the elevated levels are due to naturally occurring compounds not associated with the UPL fire. Finally, the surface water samples also revealed that none of the organic or inorganic determinants exceeded the adopted RISC Screening Levels for Water Used for Recreation.
Human Health surveys: Testing and monitoring to determine human health impacts is ongoing in the surrounding area in order to finalise the human health risk assessment (HHRA) report. Encouragingly, it appears from both the testing of first responders and on-site personnel, as well as those few people who have attended the clinic set up by UPL in the neighbouring Blackburn community, that there is very little by way of serious health impacts attributable to either the fire or the spill.
Following the presentations, members of the interim MSF were provided with an opportunity to pose questions to the team of specialists. It was agreed by all participants that the meeting was constructive and helpful. There will be discussion on the timing and form of future engagements, particularly with regard to the public health risk assessment process, and the need to finalize and implement the remediation action plan.
UPL South Africa is proud of the significant progress that has been achieved over the past year and remains committed to working with all stakeholders, including the MSF and government, when it comes to the ongoing rehabilitation work that continues on and around the warehouse site.Read more
Cornubia Warehouse Attack One-Year Anniversary: UPL clean-up efforts show success
Today, marks the one-year anniversary since the violent attack on UPL South Africa’s leased distribution warehouse in Cornubia, Durban. UPL South Africa was one of the thousands of businesses attacked during the riots and looting that broke out in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng in July 2021, which cost our economy around R50 billion and tragically resulted in 340 lives being lost.
Over the past year, UPL has spared no expense or effort to mitigate the impact of the attack, with about 130 people, including leading independent specialists, working around the clock to contain the overflow caused by containing the fire, undertaking sampling and coordinating with authorities. As a result of these efforts, all the beaches that were closed as a result of the incident were reopened for recreational purposes at the beginning of November 2021.
We are pleased that the overall concentrations of substances related to the over flow have declined substantially (dropping to either a fraction of original concentration or undetectable levels) in the system since the end of November 2021. There has also been success in re-establishing vegetation in the area. The system is returning to health, with a variety of tadpoles, algae and birdlife returning to the system.
Encouragingly, it is evident from both the testing of first responders and on-site personnel, as well as those few people who have attended the health clinic (set up by UPL South Africa in partnership with the health authorities), that there is very little by way of serious health impacts attributable to either the fire or the overflow.
While the destruction of the warehouse also had the potential to seriously and severely disrupt food security in light of UPL South Africa being a major supplier of agricultural products in South Africa that are essential to food production and food security, this was avoided due to UPL manufacturing plants worldwide working overtime to make up for the stock destroyed at the distribution warehouse and UPL South Africa working tirelessly to arrange for the timeous delivery of the stock to South Africa. These joint efforts ensured the supply of vital inputs to farmers in time for their planting season and thus helping ensure South Africa’s food security.
Finally, since the attack, UPL South Africa has regularly produced reports on the clean-up efforts and progress made. All final reports have been submitted to the various government authorities and have also been made available on the online information repository, and thus available to all stakeholders. Multiple stakeholders have also visited the site and seen the progress first-hand.
UPL South Africa, guided by its team of experts, remains committed to continue working with the relevant government authorities to build on the significant gains made in terms of rehabilitating the spill impacted system.
Note to editors:
Please use the link below to access a video that details the destruction of the UPL leased warehouse facility and the enormous progress made with various aspects of the recovery.
Thabi Ndhlovu - 061 993 6672
UPL South Africa and Interim Multi-Stakeholder commit to working together
For the first time since the devastating fire at UPL’s Cornubia Warehouse that was started during the July 2021 civil unrest, the UPL management team and members of the interim multi-stakeholder forum (MSF) that was established by MEC Ravi Pillay met yesterday (30 June 2022) to explore how both parties can work together moving forward.
UPL explained that communication between it and the MSF to date had not been helped by the fact that the MSF and its terms of reference had not been finalised by the MEC, and that it was reluctant to formally engage until that had been done. It expressed its frustration that the enormous sums of money invested in clean-up and the progress that had been made by its team of experts had not been adequately acknowledged. It expressed its concerns at biased reporting that did not reflect the substantial reduction of contaminants in the affected environments and the return of life throughout the impact zone. It recognised in principle the role of a stakeholder forum, but queried how the MSF would function within in the statutory compliance processes, and what its powers and representivity would be.
For its part the MSF expressed its concern that UPL’s refusal to engage with it gave the impression that information relevant to the affected communities was being withheld, was thus counter- productive to everyone’s interests, and contrary to industry practice for chemical incidents such as this. It stressed the right of communities to know the risks to which they are exposed, and what steps are being taken in response - which is only achieved by inclusion in relevant decision-making. It queried why UPL and the authorities have been reluctant to involve the MSF in the incident responses to date to the extent that they should have.
There was a frank and cordial exchange of views. It was agreed at the culmination of the meeting that great progress had been made in understanding each side’s perspectives, and that a path to formal engagement and collaboration should be pursued to tackle the remaining challenges arising from the incident.
The group agreed on the following as the way forward:
The terms of reference of the MSF would be revised to clarify the role of the MSF and to reflect the consensus reached at the meeting;
The stakeholder base would be reviewed to ensure that all stakeholders are represented, and would include the landowners whose properties were contaminated in the incident; • A presentation would be made to the MSF within the next month by UPL’s specialists, at which the MSF would be appraised of current progress in the incident response and be able to raise questions and obtain clarity.
Further engagements will be discussed thereafter, including the manner in which the authorities, UPL and the stakeholders would interact to further progress toward a formal and acceptable strategy, which can be implemented as a matter of extreme urgency in the best interests of all affected parties.
The parties have committed themselves to working together as the processes unfold, and expressed the view that this was a very significant step forward.
UPL South Africa has spent significant amounts of money on its clean-up, remediation and rehabilitation efforts since the July 12th, 2021, arson attack on its leased Cornubia warehouse. In the subsequent period, remarkable progress has been made by the team of independent experts appointed by UPL, together with the guidance of the relevant authorities.
Overall, the concentrations of contaminants/substances related to the spill have declined substantially (dropping to either a fraction of original concentration or undetectable level) in the system since the end of November 2021.
UPL, in collaboration with health authorities, established a health clinic staffed at UPL’s expense. An extensive public awareness campaign (including notifications to those who lodged complaints) inviting the public and complainants for a health assessment was launched.
Encouragingly, at this point, it appears from both the testing of first responders and on-site personnel, as well as those few people who have attended the clinic, that there is very little by way of serious health impacts attributable to either the fire or the spill.
Revegetation trials have begun and work with grass sods in January 2022 has shown success in re-establishing vegetation. Experts are also looking to establish a plant and tree nursery and begin propagating plants indigenous to the area to use in revegetation initiatives.
In March 2022 the marine and estuary specialists released a report to the authorities on bivalves (oysters and mussels) in the spill affected coastal areas. The report found that the oysters and mussels do not represent a threat to human health as a result of the spill.
Unfortunately, however, the report cautioned the authorities that these bivalves do pose a risk to human health from various other causes like sewerage and wastewater which are not connected to the spill or to UPL.
These developments demonstrate the success of UPL’s enormous clean-up efforts, as well as the natural degradation that pesticides are subjected to in the environment, and which will have been acting during the extensive clean-up processes that has been undertaken.
The team of independent experts includes leading air quality, toxicological, human health, freshwater, wetland, environmental engineering, and coastal, estuarine and marine specialists.
The expert team has guided the approach to clean up, remediation and rehabilitation. Their work has also included:
Initial actions focused on containing and removing contaminated water and sediments from the nearby tributary, down to its confluence with the Ohlanga River, and on containing and removing contaminated material from the warehouse site and immediate surrounds, to make them safe.
Contaminated sediment and other materials were excavated over August and September 2021. During this period sediments in the tributary streambed were high-pressure washed and the resulting water was sucked out of the channel and appropriately disposed of.
In addition, the estuary was fenced off, and signage erected to prevent access by the public. This has significantly aided the rehabilitation and restoration of the estuary. A stormwater attenuation dam was repurposed and lined with bentonite to serve as a reservoir for affected run off from the site. All waste has been disposed of in an approved method to Class A landfills.
The tributary was reshaped to create a sinuous treatment dam. The purpose of this dam is to create a meandering rather than straight stream channel, slowing the flow of the water and increasing its exposure to sunlight and natural biochemical breakdown processes, which would optimise and enhance the natural breakdown pathways of residual pesticides.
Where excavation of contaminated sediments had taken place, these streambanks were partially reshaped, and rocks placed to prevent erosion.
As contamination levels have dropped, the focus has shifted to more advanced remediation and rehabilitation efforts.
UPL is committed to continuing and building on the current work and gains made in terms of rehabilitating the spill impacted system in concert with the authorities and guided by the team of experts.Read more
The eThekwini region has been hit with a second bout of extreme rainfall. Following the first bout in April, UPL continued to work hard to reduce the levels of water in its Pollution Control Dam (PCD). The PCD was repurposed from a stormwater attenuation dam by the specialists appointed by UPL in order to collect contaminated stormwater runoff from the site following last year’s arson attack on its leased Cornubia warehouse
Over the months since the incident, and with UPL’s extensive efforts to remove chemicals of concern from the site and its environs, the contamination levels in the PCD have reduced dramatically – to the point where it has more recently become a viable option, with dilution, to release it into the adjacent tributary.
Pending the approval of that option, UPL has continued tankering water from the PCD to the DCLM (an approved Class A landfill site) on a daily basis. Last week alone just over 1.1 million litres of water were removed by tanker, which meant the PCD water level stood at below 37% on Friday afternoon, with 8 tankers being taken offsite yesterday and 10 being done today.
However, between 07:00 Saturday and 09:00 this morning a total measured volume of 263mm of rain fell onto the catchment of the PCD, and as a result it overtopped at about 8.40pm last night, via a designed spillway, and discharged safely into the adjacent tributary.
A number of UPL’s specialists and its engineering team worked collectively throughout Saturday together with UPL to monitor the situation and ensure any necessary steps were taken to keep it under control. The PCD has retained its integrity and all of its engineering interventions have held, allowing the flow to be released in a controlled manner via a spillway.
It is important to emphasize that estimates from the freshwater specialists indicate that the water from the PCD, on dilution to the tributary, is below any level of environmental harm, using international benchmark measures. The last set of independent analytical data has shown low levels of residual pesticides present in the PCD, and low overall toxicity. Preliminary modelling, using the most recent available toxicity testing results indicates that with the current flows in the tributary, adequate dilutions are being achieved to neutralise any possible effects.
Water quality sampling was undertaken prior to and at the time of overtopping of the PCD and will also be supplemented by further sampling down the entire system today. These samples will be comprehensively tested for any contaminants of concern and for overall toxicity by independent laboratories.
UPL will continue to monitor the situation closely and take the necessary steps to mitigate the impact of any further rainfall occurring in the area. This will include continued tankering of water from the PCD to the DCLM, which is staying open until 7pm this evening in order to accommodate the extra tankers being sent from the site.Read more
The article “UPL Proposes Releasing Contaminated Water Into South African Sea” (Bloomberg, 28 April 2022) refers. Despite what is implied by this headline, UPL is in fact proposing a disposal method that is lawful. It needs to be understood that over time the toxicity levels of the runoff from the UPL site have dramatically reduced, and the authorities, with UPL, are of the common view that disposing of this water to Class A landfill is no longer the best or most environmentally sustainable option. It must be stressed however that UPL remains committed to disposing of contaminated surface water strictly in accordance with licences and authorisations from the relevant government authorities and in a manner that is considered safe.
Following the unprecedented rains and flooding in KwaZulu Natal in April, UPL’s team of independent experts conducted toxicity texts on the 11th of April on the water in both the pollution control dam (PCD) and on Platform 2. Once the results became available, it was evident that with a dilution factor of 1:40, the residual toxicity in both bodies of water would be reduced to No Observable Effect Concentration (NOEC), meaning it is completely safe for the environment. In fact, water in the average suburban pool would be deemed as having a higher chemical concentration than the water in both the PCD and Platform 2.
The dilution option is particularly appropriate at the moment since the rains have increased the flows in both the Ohlanga tributary and the river. With appropriate measurement and control, UPL’s team of experts have advised that it would be completely safe to discharge the water into the tributary at a dilution of 1:40. Thereafter, the water will become even more diluted when it enters into the Umhlanga River, the estuary and the sea. This option is considered by the experts to be more environmentally sustainable than tankering the water with its low toxicity levels to a Class A landfill.
It is for this reason that UPL has applied to the eThekwini oversight bodies (including the municipality) for urgent authorisation to proceed with the disposal of the water by dilution via the tributary into the sea. It has provided all the necessary reports and certificates to the municipal authorities to support proceeding with this option and will only proceed with it if so authorised
UPL has spared no expense when it comes to mitigating the impact of the arson attack on its warehouse in July last year and has spent over R400 million to date on its clean up and rehabilitation efforts. It remains committed to disposing of water from the site strictly in accordance with the municipality’s disposal standards and only in a manner which is considered compliant and safe by the relevant experts and authorities.Read more
UPL is taking mitigation measures following overflow of control dam as a result of unprecedented heavy rains
Following the destruction of its warehouse in Cornubia, as a result of the riots in July 2021, UPL re-purposed an existing stormwater control dam below the facility into a pollution control dam (PCD). UPL appointed independent specialists who have been carefully managing the levels of polluted water in the PCD since then, and despite heavy rains in December and January the PCD has never overtopped and, pleasingly, the levels of contamination in the water have reduced significantly. Testing had indicated that the recent levels of metals and contaminants of concern in the PCD were sufficiently low to permit a variety of discharge options, including slow release into the river environment.
The PCD had furthermore been fully emptied by tankers in the last month, its sediments removed to landfill and had been fully re-lined.
The heavy rains over the weekend and continuing into last night have however created an unprecedented volume of stormwater in the PCD catchment, and its levels have rapidly risen from empty to extremely high. In response to this threat, UPL had resumed extraction to tankers and the specialist team implemented systems to reduce the volume of rainwater entering the PCD. Despite these interventions, due to ongoing heavy rainfall the PCD still overtopped (water flowed over the edge).
UPL’s specialists consider that the stormwater emanating from areas of the catchment at present is in such volumes that residual contaminants, already at low levels, will be extremely diluted. UPL’s consultants have advised that at those concentrations, they will be of minimal concern. Further, they will be diluted again when they mix with the tributary and river floodwater, and ultimately discharge into the sea. Analytical sampling has been undertaken and continues to be undertaken to verify these assessments.
UPL has made significant progress in the cleanup and rehabilitation of the areas impacted by the fire and has spent over R400 million to date. It is well advanced with its overall rehabilitation plan and has begun revegetation trials onsite. The independent specialists are currently investigating being able to release PCD and other onsite water to the environment, given the current residual levels and onsite cleanup efforts. Ultimately, the rains may in fact assist in flushing the entire system. Ongoing testing and analysis by the specialists will be able to ascertain those effects in due course.
UPL is committed to the completion of all the required cleanup and rehabilitation. It will also continue to monitor the impact of the heavy rains on the system.Read more
Cornubia arson attack: UPL-commissioned Airshed report in context
On July 12 th 2021 UPL-SA’s Cornubia Warehouse was set alight during a violent arson attack when rioters and looters broke into the facility during widespread, days-long unrest and a breakdown in the rule of law in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng Provinces. The incident caused a fire at the facility that burned for some eight days, and a chemical spill which impacted the surrounding environment.
As a responsible agrichemical supplier UPL immediately took the necessary steps to mitigate the impact of the chemical spill that resulted from the warehouse being set alight. To date, UPL has spent over R300 million doing so. These efforts have included the appointment of numerous leading independent experts and specialists as well as two spill response teams.
Apart from the immediate containment and clean-up work, UPL needed to gain a full understanding of all the effects of the incident so that appropriate interventions could be taken to minimize and where necessary remediate those effects. The Airshed report that has been referred to, forms part of this much broader effort which involves assessing the impact of the incident on atmospheric conditions, land, freshwater and marine resources, as well as human health, flora and fauna.
In order to understand the atmospheric impacts of the fire UPL commissioned an atmospheric impact assessment by Dr Lucian Burger of Airshed, a renowned South African consultancy.
Airshed’s report was delivered to the authorities in November 2021. It consists of a modelled analysis of the phases and duration of the fire, the products that were stored in the Warehouse at the date of the fire, meteorological conditions at the time, and other relevant considerations.
It is important to note that the report uses a number of assumptions, such as the heat of the fire, the volume of various products that are likely to have combusted wholly or partially in the fire and those that would have vaporised and been carried in the smoke plume etc.
Using those parameters Airshed constructed a number of predicted impact scenarios. Since measurements could not be carried out during the course of the fire due to the threat of violence, the atmospheric impact assessment utilised extensive conservative modelling – in other words it predicted a worst-case scenario.
It did this for a very specific reason: the report is intended to serve as a guide for a focussed epidemiological study in the impacted areas identified in the report. In other words, the report models the worst outcome with the ultimate aim of identifying the areas in which humans may have been most impacted, which would then inform the epidemiological study.
The last step in the process is to conduct the epidemiological study itself. That will consist of detailed medical testing of individuals within the predicted impact zones to determine whether the chemicals of concern have had, or are in the future likely to have an effect on human health. The results of that study will inform medical interventions and monitoring into the future.
Although it is too early to reach any firm conclusions, it appears from both the testing of first responders and on-site personnel, as well as those who have attended the UPL established occupational health clinic, that there are very few, if any, chronic health impacts attributable to either the fire or the waterborne chemical spill. Whether that will remain the case will only be known once the outcomes of the epidemiological study are known.
Although UPL did not cause this fire, it is committed to completing these processes in collaboration with the authorities and in accordance with best international practice.
All of these efforts are being undertaken with the relevant South African government stakeholders, in an open and transparent process. Regular reports on progress are being provided to them, and an extensive rehabilitation and monitoring plan is in process.Read more
Cornubia warehouse arson attack: update on clean up and monitoring efforts
The Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, (National Assembly) is meeting today, the 8th of February to discuss, amongst other issues, a briefing update on the July 2021 arson attack on UPL’s leased Cornubia warehouse, which led to a chemical spill.
The specialist team appointed by UPL have been working with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and have provided them with extensive information on the progress of the clean-up, remediation, rehabilitation and monitoring efforts to date.
UPL is pleased that the current data presented to the Department shows that its extensive clean up and rehabilitation operations are showing success in many areas.
New information based on the results of monitoring efforts by the independent experts shows improvements in terms of possible issues that would be of concern at present versus when the incident happened. These positive outcomes are notable for the beaches and sea water, the estuary, Ohlanga River, the warehouse platform and the pollution control dam. Another positive aspect to note is the rapid fall in the concentration of detected pesticides.
Furthermore, independent experts have been monitoring for possible acute and chronic public health risks associated with the spill. Analysis from November 2021, showed there were no reports of acute or chronic public health issues from surrounding communities. Experts are also awaiting the outcomes of a broader health risk assessment and monitoring in terms of human health will continue.
These monitoring efforts and associated results have also helped UPL pinpoint areas that need continued remediation work as well as to determine the most appropriate courses of action in this regard.
To date, UPL has spent over R300 million to mitigate the impact of the chemical spill that resulted from the warehouse being set alight during the widespread looting of mid-July last year. These efforts have included the appointment of numerous leading independent experts and specialists as well as two spill response teams. During the first two and a half months following the attack there were approximately 130 people working at the spill site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The teams have removed significant volumes of contaminated sediment and water in the Ohlanga tributary and its banks. The operation has also included reworking the tributary channel in some areas and the formation of sinuous channel sections to accelerate the natural breakdown of any remaining residual products. Further soil samples were taken on the 2nd of February with the aim of assessing the best way forward in terms of revegetation. Trials are being established to assess the best plants to use in the initial vegetation rehabilitation and the independent experts are aiming to set up a nursery on site, which will allow for the propagation of plants indigenous to the area.
Encouragingly, sampling from nearby sugar cane fields has shown that all detected pesticide levels were below the applicable Maximum Residue Levels – mindful that of the detected pesticides, some are already used as part of the normal agricultural process. Further sampling will be undertaken before the 2022 crop harvesting begins.
The public can be assured that these broader assessment processes, undertaken by UPL’s team of independent experts, which includes the monitoring of any potential human health impacts, will remain ongoing as will water and sediment sampling and monitoring continue over the coming months.
Critically, the results of the ongoing monitoring is proving to be very useful in driving remediation and rehabilitation actions, to which UPL is committed over the longer-term.
UPL’s team of experts will also continue engaging with the relevant government authorities and provide regular reports on the work being done. All the above information, and more, was provided to the DFFE ahead of the Portfolio Committee’s meeting.Read more
Cornubia arson attack: UPL will be making a written submission to the SAHRC
UPL South Africa will be making a written submission to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) following yesterday’s hearing, which focused on the arson attack on its leased Cornubia warehouse on the 12th of July - as part of the SAHRC’s investigation into the widespread violence and looting that spread through parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in mid-July this year.
UPL was inexplicably not invited to provide evidence during yesterday’s hearing and therefore was not given an opportunity to respond to statements made by University of KwaZulu-Natal Professor Rajen Naidoo and Blackburn Village community member Kwanele Msizazwe, many of which, were false, misleading or inaccurate.
Most importantly, UPL has sought expert opinion in terms of its compliance with the relevant legislation and contests the findings of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s preliminary report and will be responding in the appropriate forum. However, it stands by the fact that no level of compliance would have prevented the spill that resulted from the arson attack on the 12th of July and the inability of law enforcement, emergency services and private spills teams to respond to the incident timeously, due to the breakdown of law and order in the area.
Furthermore, since the attack, UPL has done everything possible to mitigate the impact of the chemical spill in the area. This includes spending R297 million on cleanup and rehabilitation operations. It is pleased that these extensive efforts are showing success with signs of new vegetation growing and wildlife returning to the area surrounding the site.
UPL has also continued to monitor the impact of the spill on human health in surrounding communities and remains committed to working with the eThekwini Department of Health to address any health concerns held by members of the Blackburn community, which relate directly to the arson attack and spill. UPL cannot however be expected to fill the service delivery vacuum left by years of neglect of this community by local authorities.
Since the attack UPL has worked openly and transparently with the relevant government authorities including providing regular reports on the work being done and status of the surrounding area. UPL hopes that, in the interests of fairness and due process, the SAHRC will accept its written submission in order to respond to the serious allegations made against it at yesterday’s hearing and to submit its own evidence on the violent arson attack and the aftermath.Read more
Cornubia warehouse attack: UPL works with SAPS to bring criminals to book
UPL, one of the leading suppliers of agricultural inputs to farmers across South Africa, has engaged a former public prosecutor to assist the South African Police Service (SAPS) to bring the criminals behind the arson attack on its leased Cornubia warehouse on the 12th of July to book.
To date no arrests have been made in relation to the looting and arson attack on the warehouse, which formed part of the widespread criminality and violence that engulfed KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng in mid-July this year.
UPL has been committed to doing everything possible to deal with the fallout of this unprecedented and unpredictable attack. This has included spending over R267 million (to date) to deal with the chemical spill that resulted from the warehouse being deliberately set on fire. We are pleased that this clean-up operation, which saw 130 people working around the clock over the past few months, has successfully contained the spill, with eThekwini municipality reopening the beaches on the 2nd of November.
UPL has provided statements and evidence to the SAPS investigating officers in relation to the attack. UPL has also handed over CCTV footage showing looters breaking into the warehouse premises, stealing various items from the buildings and also what appears to be looters collecting material which may have been used by them to set the property alight. Many of the people in the footage were not wearing masks and are therefore easily identifiable and so it hopes that this evidence will assist the SAPS with their investigations and lead to arrests.
With very few perpetrators who had participated in the widespread looting and violence in July having been convicted to date, UPL will continue to assist the SAPS where it can, so the criminals responsible for the warehouse attack, and the subsequent spill caused by the unrest, face the full might of the law.
UPL will also carry on working closely with all government authorities, civil society and communities on its remediation and rehabilitation programmes in the affected areas.
And it will continue providing local farmers with the vital inputs that they require to contribute to the country’s overall food security.
Cornubia warehouse attack: UPL welcomes reopening of the beaches
UPL welcomes the announcement by KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA), Mr Ravi Pillay, that the majority of beaches that were closed will reopen for recreational purposes today, 2 November 2021. This latest development demonstrates the success of UPL’s ongoing extensive clean-up operations.
This decision follows the finalisation of the EDTEA’s external peer review of the independent specialists’ final beaches report, submitted by UPL on the 24th of September to the eThekwini Municipality. That report concluded that, save for a 1km exclusion zone north, south and east of the Ohlanga River mouth, the beaches are safe to reopen (regardless of whether the Ohlanga Estuary mouth is open or closed).
We are pleased that the EDTEA’s external peer reviewer has concurred with the recommendations of the beaches report and that the eThekwini municipality, as the competent authority, has made the decision to reopen the beaches.
UPL has spared no expense to mitigate the impact of the chemical spill that resulted from the 12th July arson attack on the warehouse leased by UPL and the failure of emergency and fire services to attend to the fire timeously due to the complete breakdown of law and order in the area at the time. It has spent over R250 million to date on its clean up and rehabilitation operations.
Going forward UPL’s team of independent specialists will continue to assess the impact of the spill on the environment, and the potential impact on human health, in the surrounding business and residential communities. UPL will continue working on remediation and rehabilitation programmes in the affected areas. UPL will continue engaging with government authorities, civil society and surrounding communities on these programmes.
Finally, UPL, who is one of the leading suppliers of local farming input to farmers across South Africa, is committed to providing local farmers with the vital inputs that they require for this year’s growing season and to contribute to the country’s overall food security.Read more
Cornubia warehouse arson attack: UPL concerned over aspects of government’s establishment of multi-stakeholder forum
UPL’s legal team has written to the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and the Environment (EDTEA) indicating that it will not be attending the launch of a multi-stakeholder forum to be established in the wake of the UPL Cornubia warehouse arson attack, which is taking place today, 23rdof October.
This follows a letter sent to the EDTEA on the 15th of October in which UPL raised a number of concerns regarding the draft Terms of Reference for the forum. It has to date received no response to those concerns.
In its reasons for deciding not to attend the launch, UPL expressed its frustration that the draft TOR was sent out for public comment without any prior consultation with UPL and that since receiving UPL’s letter of concerns regarding the forum there has been no further engagement at all. In launching the forum without resolving its terms of reference, the impression has been created that UPL has accepted the proposals contained in these draft documents, when that is not the case.
UPL has in all of its communications expressed its support for a forum that will enable stakeholders to be informed and express their concerns. It is committed to transparency and openness and is more than willing to work with government and stakeholders following the arson attack on its leased Cornubia warehouse. However, it has objected to the overly broad mandate that was proposed for the forum and the extensive powers accorded to it, thereby confusing the roles of government with those of stakeholders and making it potentially unworkable.
UPL believes that the terms of reference of the forum go well beyond the specific actions the EDTEA is empowered to take under s30 of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), under which UPL is performing its clean up operations. It also takes the view that the objectionable aspects in the draft TOR are not required for government to achieve its objectives in terms of the Act. Notwithstanding that, UPL agrees that it is important that all stakeholders, including the surrounding communities, are kept informed of developments since the arson attack on its leased Cornubia warehouse, and that the forum has an important role in that regard. It has indicated its willingness to engage with EDTEA to assist it in that role, but without the other objectionable aspects of the forum’s TOR.
UPL has also, since the arson attack, ensured an open line of communication with government authorities, which has included keeping them informed of its efforts to mitigate the impact of the chemical spill as required in terms of s30 of the NEMA. This includes providing weekly reports to all three spheres of government on its extensive clean up and rehabilitation operations, which have cost UPL over R250 million to date.
The decision to launch the forum before settling its terms of reference is highly unfortunate, and could have been avoided. UPL is disappointed that the opportunity to launch the forum with UPL’s wholehearted support has been lost.
This follows a similar situation where on the 3rd of October, Minister of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) Barbara Creecy released a preliminary report by her department into the warehouse attack, without any prior discussions with UPL who only received the document a few hours before it was sent out.
UPL remains committed to continue working closely with government and all stakeholders in civil society and surrounding communities in order to mitigate the impact of the events which have occurred after the arson attack on its warehouse which resulted from the civil unrest of 12th of July. However, it has asked for meaningful, timely and proper consultation and engagement between it and government on all issues, of which the proposed forum is merely one. It looks forward to engaging with the EDTEA on the TOR for the forum so that it can constructively engage with it moving forward.Read more
Note to editors: UPL will be not available for media interviews at this stage, but will in the coming days provide the opportunity for extensive media briefings.
Cornubia warehouse arson attack: UPL concerned over the continued delay by eThekwini municipality to open the beaches
UPL’s legal team has written to the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and the Environment (EDTEA) expressing its concern over the continued delay in reopening the beaches which were closed following the arson attack on its leased warehouse in Cornubia on the 12th of July as part of the widespread looting that broke out across KwaZulu-Natal. The fire led to a chemical spill due to emergency services not being able to immediately respond to the fire as a result of a the complete breakdown of law and order in the area.
The letter follows a meeting last week on the 11th October 2021 between UPL’s team of independent specialists and the Department’s external reviewer who has been appointed to conduct a peer review of the report that was submitted to the Department on 24th of September. The report presented the results of a chemical analysis of the beaches and sea water at the beginning of September and concluded that all the beaches and ocean outside a 1km exclusion zone, north, south and east of the mouth pose an extremely low chemical risk to the public regardless of whether the estuary mouth is open or closed.
At this meeting, UPL’s team of independent specialists provided more detail on the chemical analysis and results and also answered all questions posed by the independent reviewer. The team also provided information on the extensive clean-up operations that have been funded by UPL since the attack and which have cost over R250 million to date.
UPL is of the opinion that all necessary information has been supplied in order for authorities to determine that the beaches are safe to be reopened. UPL recognises the negative impact of the prolonged closure of the beaches on tourism establishments in the area as well as other economic sectors such as the local fishing industry.
It is therefore concerned that the decision to reopen the beaches is being unnecessarily delayed and has urged EDTEA to urgently expedite this process so that these beaches can once again be enjoyed by the public.
UPL remains committed to continue working closely with government, civil society and surrounding communities in order to mitigate the impact of the fire and chemical spill and move forward after the unfortunate and unforeseeable events of the 12th of July.Read more
Note to editors: UPL will be not available for media interviews at this stage, but will in the coming days provide the opportunity for extensive media briefings.
UPL disappointed by Minister Creecy’s release of preliminary report into the Cornubia warehouse attack
UPL has always been fully committed to cooperation with all three spheres of government to help manage the after effects of the violent attack on its Cornubia Warehouse in July of this year. It has had extensive correspondence with government in this regard, and has always acted in good faith in its interactions.
UPL is thus deeply disappointed that Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy has decided to release her department’s preliminary findings of an investigation into a fire incident at its Cornubia Warehouse without any prior discussion with the company. The preliminary report was only sent to UPL late last night, a matter of mere hours before its release.
As a result, UPL has simply had insufficient time to properly consider the preliminary report. What is nevertheless clear is that it fails to address what is at the heart of the issue – namely, that the fires, which led to the pollution, were caused by rioters involved in the civil unrest in Kwazulu-Natal at the time and which the emergency services were unable to contain. UPL along with many other businesses were left to fend for themselves in the face of unprecedented and unforeseeable levels of violence and criminality. This central fact seems to be conveniently ignored by Minister Creecy’s department.
At first glance, the circulation of this preliminary report at extremely late notice to UPL, appears to have been a deliberate strategy to deny UPL sufficient time within which to enforce its rights and ultimately to prejudice its rights. UPL does not admit any non-compliance with the law, as alleged in the preliminary report.
From the limited time that UPL has had to consider the preliminary report, it is also evident that very little has been said about UPL’s extraordinary efforts at the containment and clean-up of its lost products, its compliance with its NEMA obligations and the NEMA Directives issued – all at considerable cost to UPL and in the most adverse circumstances possible.
UPL has desisted from highlighting the many inadequacies of government’s response to this matter. If it had, it would have detailed the many disorganised, uncoordinated and contradictory responses from the authorities. It decided that the best course of action would be to remain focused on urgent containment efforts and dealing with the damage caused by the looters and the failure of the state to provide adequate protection at the time of the violence.
UPL will in due course respond to allegations of non-compliance in the appropriate forums. For now, it intends to get on with the clean-up and rehabilitation. It has had extensive interactions with the authorities in the past, and trust that the Minister’s current visit and actions have not prejudiced that.Read more
Note to Editors: UPL will not be available for interviews as they are preparing for the Minister’s visit
UPL is looking forward to welcoming Minister of Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy along with MEC Ravi Pillay and Mayor Mxolisi Thomas Kaunda to Cornubia tomorrow. This forms part of our ongoing engagement with all three spheres of government.
Despite the spillage resulting from factors beyond UPL’s control as a result in the fundamental break down in law and order, it has spared no effort or expense in containing the situation. To date UPL has spent in excess of R177 million in clean-up operations and on monitoring the impact on public health. UPL is grateful that there has been no reported instances of serious illness or death as a result of the spill.
An independent assessment has found that the affected beaches can be reopened, (with exclusion zones for recreation and harvesting). The final decision now rests with the eThekwini Municipality as to when they will decide to formally reopen the affected beaches. UPL hopes that this decision will be taken as soon as possible
UPL remains committed to working with all three spheres of government as well as all affected parties to address the situation and to ensure that a company which is of vital importance to South Africa’s food security can continue to provide much needed products to the agricultural sector.Read more
UPL has provided a report written by independent specialists to the eThekwini Municipality on the results of a chemical analysis of the beaches and sea water conducted over the past few weeks, with the last samples taken on the 8th of September. The report recommends that all beaches are safe to be reopened following the arson attack against the UPL Cornubia warehouse on 12th of July 2021 during the widespread violence and looting that broke out across Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Samples, including control samples, were taken at various sites along the coastline (from Salt Rock in the north to Umgeni estuary in the south) with the results undergoing expert scrutiny and interpretation by a range of independent specialists. They have concluded that the beaches and ocean outside a 1km exclusion zone, north, south and east of the mouth pose an extremely low chemical risk to the public regardless of whether the estuary mouth is open or closed.Read more
UPL has noted the statement by Mr Heinz de Boer of the DA that charges have been laid against it in the Verulam Magistrates Court for “environmental pollution”. It has not seen any charges, nor does it understand the basis for such charges, if there are any, or who has laid them.
UPL has also noted the statement that it has played “cat and mouse” and has engaged in a litany of actions including providing “unsatisfactory reports” and “unsatisfactory responses” and having failed to supply necessary documents and information to the authorities.Read more
An intensive containment and clean-up operation after the arson attack that destroyed UPL’s Cornubia warehouse has successfully contained all runoff from the site, pollution control and treatment dams have been constructed, and remediation efforts are well under way.
This follows events in the late evening of 12 July and early hours of 13 July, when the UPL Cornubia warehouse was vandalised and set on fire by looters connected with the general unrest that spread through the greater Durban area.Read more
During the evening of 12 July 2021 / the morning of 13th July 2021, an arson attack occurred at UPL’s Cornubia Warehouse at Umganu Road, resulting in a fire which destroyed the warehouse and caused agri-chemical products to disperse into the surrounding environment. Any business or person wishing to lodge a complaint because of the incident must complete the UPL Cornubia Warehouse Fire Complaint Form and deliver the Complaint Form to UPL.Read more
Since UPL’s media statement of 19 July, additional issues of public concern have been raised which the company would like to address.Read more
Communities in the vicinity of the Cornubia warehouse fire have been understandably anxious to receive more information on the ongoing remediation efforts and the containment of the crop solution products that may have been released into the environment following the arson attack on the building.Read more
The looting in the Cornubia area led to multiple fires being set, including a warehouse storing plant protection products that was set on fire on Monday, 12th July 2021. The repeated attacks, as well as the unrest which prevented a rapid response, resulted in the brand new facility’s security and state-of-the-art safety features being overwhelmed.Read more
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