South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
Worker Dies at Engen from Lethal Acid Exposure

Press Release

Embargo: Immediate, 29 May 2001

Yesterday, two workers at the Engen refinery in South Durban became victims to lethal hydrofluoric acid. This devastating incident resulted in the death of one of the workers with the second worker still being in critical condition.

For decades the communities in South Durban have been vociferously campaigning against polluting industry and the accompanying risks that are forced upon them. Ongoing incidents, emission releases, toxic risks and exposure are part and parcel of everyday life for the people of South Durban. To date not a single industry in South Durban has been penalised for transgressions even when there are extreme health and safety consequences. In May 1998, exactly three years ago, the Sapref (Shell/BP) refinery was responsibility for an explosion of an HF tank that could have resulted in untold deaths and injuries in the community had it not been for the wind blowing the acid vapours out to sea.

Hydrofluoric acid or otherwise known as Hydrogen Fluoride (HF), is one of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind and requires maximum caution. HF may be absorbed into the body by inhalation, through the skin and by ingestion and may lead to corrosion of the eye, skin or respiratory tract and in some cases result in cardiac and renal (kidney) failure. A single drop of HF solution can result in amputation or death if not treated properly or correctly. Occupational precautions require the use of protective equipment and proper training in handling and storage of HF.

Communities in the US have been campaigning for the end to the use of HF in refinery processes as there exists other available safer processes and substitutes. The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) is distressed by the incident that has taken a life and appeal to the relevant authorities to enforce cleaner technologies that would ultimately reduce the risks to both the environment and on human-life and to take stringent action against polluting industries.

The SDCEA offers our condolences to the bereaved family.

END.

Contact: Michelle Simon (461-1991, 072-2660-201)
Bobby Peek
Rory O'Connor