The final report into the chemical spill at the United Phosphorus Limited (UPL) warehouse in Cornubia, KwaZulu-Natal, in July, is expected to be completed by the end of September.
The multi-departmental investigative team which was set up to investigate the incident has nearly finalised a preliminary report, which sets out the findings of the investigation, specifically into the regulatory environment in which the UPL warehouse was required to operate, Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy has said.
During the National Assembly debate on August 25 on the report by the Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s oversight visit following civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, Creecy confirmed that the investigation included aspects related to environmental law, requirements for major hazard installations, relevant licensing requirements under the Hazardous Substances Act and the Fertilizers, Farm Feeds and Agricultural Remedies Act, as well as the various legal requirements set out in the local by-laws.
“The report will guide further actions that need to be taken by government to address any noncompliances detected, but also to implement proactive measures to strengthen the regulation of this sector,” Creecy said.
She reiterated the importance of transparency in the manner in which government responds to an incident of this nature and supported the recommendation made by the Portfolio Committee to establish a multi-stakeholder forum that would receive regular reports from the Joint Operations Centre and ensure representation of relevant stakeholders, including community representatives, researchers in the health fraternity and nongovernmental organisations.
Given the scale of the incident, and the numerous regulatory authorities involved, government has focused on three priority areas, namely, to ensure that further environmental and health risks are contained.
Additionally, the government is focusing on overseeing and guiding the assessment, clean-up and remediation process, while the third priority has been to investigate the incident within the ambit of the regulatory environment applicable to such a facility.
These three priorities align with the environmental principles clearly set out in the National Environmental Management Act (Nema).
The Minister pointed out that no fresh contamination was being released from the UPL facility into the environment, but as an additional layer of precaution, eight shallow water and eight deep water boreholes are being drilled to confirm that there was no contamination of the deeper aquifers.
The investigation into the spill, and the findings, would go a long way to restore public confidence in the investigative and remedial measures underway, Creecy said.
It was also a requirement in terms of the Nema.