Minister releases findings into UPL probe

Monday, October 4, 2021

The investigation into the fire at a chemicals warehouse at Cornubia, north of Durban, found that UPL South Africa (Pty) Limited was not in possession of the requisite environmental authorisation prior to establishing its operations three months before the incident. 

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, said authorisation should have been obtained from the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs.

“In addition, UPL had not obtained a critical risk assessment or planning permissions from the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the relevant municipal by-laws.

“Had the UPL undertaken this process, it would in all probability have been defined as a Major Hazard Institution considering the significant volumes and nature of the chemicals stored at this particular location. These assessments would have determined the emergency readiness of the facility in the face of a disaster such as a fire,” the Minister said on Sunday.

She made these remarks during the release of the report of the Joint Preliminary Investigation into the Compliance Profile of UPL.

The report is the result of an investigation by a multi-disciplinary team into the regulatory environment in which the UPL warehouse was required to operate, and the environmental impact of the chemical spill and fire incident that has caused extensive environmental damage.

Beaches along this stretch of the KwaZulu-Natal north coast remain closed, and subsistence and recreational fishing, as well as the utilisation of any marine living resources in the area remains prohibited.  

An independent team of investigators comprising Environmental Management Inspectors from both the national and provincial departments have initiated a criminal investigation.

“This investigation is being undertaken in line with the Criminal Procedure Act and involves the collection of evidence, including sampling of, amongst others, sand, water, fish and plants, to determine criminal liability in relation to the harm that has been caused to the environment.

“The probe will also take into account the liability of other role-players that may have been involved in this matter,” the Minister said.

The report has recommended an evaluation of the response of the authorities to the incident, with the aim of enhancing our capabilities to respond to similar incidents in the future.

“Ideas currently on the table include the establishment of an interdepartmental rapid emergency response team to deal with a certain category of incidents, and the establishment of a panel of intergovernmental specialists,” Creecy said.

The report also recommended a baseline compliance profile of the entire agrochemical-manufacturing sector and the inclusion of this sector into the national environmental compliance and enforcement activities. –