By Tiyani Rikhotso
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 8 of VARSITY News.
The Willowton group, a producer of the household goods Canola and Sunfoil cooking oils as well as the familiar D’lite and Sunshine D spreads, experienced a disastrous industrial spill in its Pietermaritzburg plant two weeks ago. This had major ecological damage in the Duzi river as hundreds of fish were killed and in addition, communities, aquatic life and water quality as far as the Inanda dam (70km from the source of the spill) have been affected too.
The accident occurred when a giant container collapsed, damaging two others as well as a pollution containment facility. Mark Graham, a river ecologist appointment by the company to investigate the damage, shares how the contamination led to low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water which the fish and other aquatic invertebrates need to live. This spill has had devastating effects on the river with a loss of 80% of its aquatic life.
The lives of residents and farmers who rely on the river have also been compromised. Water is a scarce and important resource that needs to be protected as it is not only essential in maintaining health and sanitation but is also essential to farmers in looking after crops and livestock. There is an important need for businesses to integrate sustainability and environmental awareness into their practices as they need to acknowledge that their processes often have a negative impact on the lives and natural environments around them.
Willowton has managed to step up and assist the local community by providing clean water as well as JoJo tanks and bulk water to supply the needs of livestock. This is taking place alongside awareness campaigns to ensure that people steer clear of the river and using its water as well as clean up efforts that include flushing the waste material and removing dead matter. In addition to harming aquatic life and jeopardizing human health and livestock and agriculture, dealing with the aftermath of toxic waste spills drains time and financial resources.
With the reality of climate change where rapid temperature shifts, pollution and natural disasters pose a great risk to plant, animal and human life, we cannot afford the destruction that comes with toxic wastes spillages (intentional or not). There can not only be accountability during times of crisis but in ensuring they don’t happen at all; be it putting in place thorough and frequent maintenance checks or shifting the means of storage and operation to equipment that is environmentally friendly and trustworthy. It is also important for the government to strictly enforce policies meant to regulate business practices and their environmental impact.
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