USA activists continue tour of pollution hotspots

28 March 2004 - As both the USA and South Africa are approaching general elections in 2004, many of the failures of both governments are being highlighted. Communities in both countries are still fighting for clean air and improved enforcement and monitoring of polluting industries.

Five environmental justice activists from the USA, hosted by groundWork, continue their tour of the pollution hotspots in South Africa. On 27 March 2004, the group visited community organisations in Merebank, Umlazi and south Durban in Kwazulu-Natal. The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance organised a ‘toxic tour’ of the industries in Durban.

Durban is ‘home’ to two of the largest oil refineries in Southern Africa. South Durban has the largest concentration of petrochemical industries in the country and it refines approximately 60% of South Africa’s petroleum. There are five major industrial belts located in the South Durban Basin (SDB): the valley industrial belt; the Jacobs industrial belt; the Navy/Mobeni industrial belt; the Island View industrial belt and the Prospecton industrial belt.

The valley industrial belt, nicknamed “cancer valley” (after Cancer Alley in California) is occupied by the Engen and Sapref refineries, a Mondi paper mill, an international airport, a sewage treatment plant, a busy south coast freeway, a polluted Umlaas canal, landfill sites and various mills, processing and manufacturing industries.

Hilton Kelley, one of the USA activists, lives and works in Port Arthur that is home to an oil refinery partly owned by Shell Oil Company. Mr Kelley said that the extent of pollution in south Durban is evidence of the importance of having a strong regulatory agency. He was astonished that industries are not being monitored closer given the heavy toxicity in the air. He also mentioned that this exchange has made him realise that he has to remain vigilant against Shell and also that the coalition against Shell that connects communities across the globe is definitely on the right path.

The group will travel to Richards Bay on 28 March 2004 and their final stop will be in Cape Town on 30 March 2004.

For more information please contact Ardiel Soeker at 082-940-8669