South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
31 October 2002
Engen (Petronas) toxic fumes continue into eighth day!

The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and groundWork received numerous calls from the community over the past few days about the continuing toxic fumes emanating from the damaged Engen crude oil tank. One call came in at 6am this morning from a resident who complained that the smell was present the entire evening and had resulted in her having difficulty in breathing.  The resident said she had been contacting City authorities, but they only arrived to take samples after the smell had dissipated or had moved to a different area

groundWork and SDCEA took two air samples in the communities this morning. The results will be available in two weeks’ time. Communities have not had access to any of the results of air samples that the city and Engen have taken to date. 

“Considering the fact that there have been toxic fumes dumped onto the community for the last 8 days, Engen and the City should have set in place a permanent sampling process within the community, to give the community online (immediate) information about the pollution they are breathing in,” said Steven van Wyck, who took samples for SDCEA and groundWork this morning.   

Community members discovered there was an operational problem in the early hours of the morning of Wednesday, October 23.  Engen only admitted to the problem on Thursday.  This was more than 24 hours after the problem was discovered by community people.

Communities are still awaiting an official report by the City of Durban and Engen as to why the roof of the crude oil tank sank below the crude, and what they are doing to eliminate the toxic fumes from our air, and what toxic fumes have been released into the environment.  However, while we await the reports, the City Manager, Mike Sutcliffe stated on Sunday that the “smells would subside within 24 hours”.  72 hours later the toxic fumes are still present in the neighbourhood.  

The fumes started affecting residents from as far away as Glenwood eight days ago.

There have been numerous incidents in south Durban over the last few weeks.

SDCEA and groundWork call on MEC Singh and Minister Valli Moosa to:

  • Launch an investigation into the Engen/Petronas incident immediately;
  • Open the Shell and BP investigation to the public from the outset (unmonitored fumes were releases from the Shell and BP refinery when the refinery had an unplanned shut down last week); and
  • Make public the cause of the explosion at the Total fuel tank at the Island View storage area where workers were injured


 For comment call Bobby Peek at groundWork on 082 4641383 or Stephen van Wyk at SDCEA on 031 4611991