SAPREF flames alarm residents

The flames captured on camera by residents who live in the area.

Numerous flares released by SAPREF, a refinery located near the South Durban communities, have sent residents into panic mode, and have caused major health issues in the community.

A Merebank resident claimed that she was confused as the noise sounded like thunder. “At night, it got worse and it caused my dogs to become hysterical. The flare was so big it lit up the sky turning it red. The flames and noise continued for two and a half days, along with thick black smoke released into the air by SAPREF,” she said.

Lutchmee Perumal, a member of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and environmental justice NGO, claimed that as a concerned resident of Merebank, she had called SAPREF to lay a complaint, but a security officer picked up the phone and could not adequately answer her questions.

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“Later, I received a call from SAPREF and spoke to Mr Hooblal, who apologised for the noise and said it would stop by the evening. He stated he would visit the community to see how close we live close to SAPREF, but he never showed up,” she said.

This incident has caused a major health issues for many residents who are suffering from health conditions and asthma.

Patrick Naidoo, principal of Settlers Primary School, complained of a similar situation. “Pupils were overcome by dizziness and were feeling faint. One of our staff members had to leave as she could not breathe. I called SAPREF but could not get a proper explanation as to what was going on,” he said.

On August, 28, SAPREF held a public meeting to answer questions from the community. According to SAPREF staff, the problem was caused by the compressor.  They were also aware of the problem on August 11, but did not have enough time to notify the surrounding communities and went ahead with the maintenance after getting approval from the City Health Department.

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Sustainable Development Manager for SAPREF, Cindy Govender explained,“Our proactive monitoring indicated the need for maintenance of one of our compressors and on Friday, August 11, we made a decision to shut down the compressor to inspect and correct. This compressor was taken offline on August 15 and was brought back online on August 18. During the flaring period, we received 10 formal complaints related to noise and odour which were addressed telephonically, through visits to the property of the complainants and via an engagement session with SDCEA representatives and members of the community. A note of apology was sent to 8000 neighbours on Friday, August 18. SAPREF regrets any disturbance caused to the community through the flaring during this maintenance period.”

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Candice George

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