Gas leak at Sappi Saiccor

Posted: 7 November 2008 in Pollution, Sappi, South Africa

A sulphur dioxide pipeline burst last week at Sappi’s newly up-graded pulp mill at Umkomaas. Three hundred people were treated by doctors after the leak.

I visited Sappi-Saiccor in November 2005, and attended a public meeting about the proposed expansion of the pulp mill. The meeting was a sham, the concerns of local communities were brushed aside and it was clear that the company had already decided that it was going ahead with its expansion plans. The problem with the Sappi-Saiccor mill is not limited to occasional leaks. The pulp mill stinks. As the article below notes, people living near the mill have to put up with the smell and suffer ill-health such as asthma and respiratory tract infections as a result of the mill’s pollution.

Residents treated after gas leak
The Mercury, 6 November 2008
By Tony Carnie

Three-hundred people have been treated by doctors in the wake of the recent Sappi-Saiccor gas leak at Umkomaas.

Sappi said 48 people were treated after a newly commissioned sulphur dioxide pipeline burst at the pulp and paper mill last Monday.

However, responding to questions from The Mercury on Wednesday, Sappi spokesperson Andre Oberholzer confirmed that 51 workers and 238 members of the community had now received medical attention.

Of the 51 mill staff given emergency treatment for exposure to gas, 10 needed further treatment.

Of the community members who were treated, some had pre-existing asthma, while others had upper respiratory tract infections.

Sappi’s management is due to hand over a formal report on the accident to environmental affairs MEC Mtholephi Mthimkhulu on Monday.

Mthimkhulu expressed concern that community members had been gassed during a similar incident in 1999.

According to Sappi, the 1999 leak was caused by a fault in old equipment.

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