Pietermaritzburg river systems remain unsafe

Posted on 20 August 2019

Pietermaritzburg river systems were contaminated by an oil and caustic acid spill on Tuesday 13 August. The spill originated from the Willowton Group’s oil factory and leaked into the Baynespruit stream, polluting the water.

Caustic soda, or sodium hydroxide, has very strong corrosive qualities. It is used to create various products from drain cleaner to paper.

Following the spill, communities living along the Msunduzi and Umgeni rivers were urged not to drink the water. By Friday 16 August the eThekwini municipality also issued warnings to residents near the Inanda Dam, between Durban and Pietermaritzburg to avoid the water.

Residents living upstream were also cautioned to avoid the water and to ensure livestock did not drink from it either.

On Tuesday 20 August the Msunduzi municipality’s Environmental Health Unit warned local communities to stay away from the affected rivers until further notice.

Despite these warnings however, Times Live reports that members of these communities were collecting dead fish from the contaminated water of Baynespruit and Duzi rivers with the suspected intention of selling them.

In a statement made to Times Live the Environmental Health Unit confirmed that the river water is still hazardous, ‘the message is still very clear that the river system is still a no-go area. The public is warned to refrain from utilising the water for various purposes, including drinking, washing of dishes and clothing, irrigation, retrieving dead fish, swimming, fishing and canoeing.’

‘However, water from the municipality’s supply is absolutely safe for use, as it is purified at the Midmar and DV Harris water treatment works.’

The Willowton Group has embarked on clean-up operations and the pH levels and water colour of Baynespruit and Duzi rivers have normalised.

‘However, aquatic organisms have been severely impacted and environmental studies are being conducted regarding the extent of the damage. The visible foam, being a separation of the oil fats, has almost totally been contained and removed,’ said the municipal Unit.

The municipality will be auditing Willowton to determine if the correct legislation was being followed.

Image source: Facebook/ @DurbanEthekwini  



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