Liquidated Formalchem factory’s neglect poses risk

HUNDREDS of rusting barrels of toxic and flammable methanol and urea formaldehyde glue lie rotting in the sun and rain at a derelict, asset-stripped chemical plant in Berlin.

The Daily Dispatch photographed a portion of the fouryear-old stockpile at the liquidated Formalchem factory this week.

A few of the barrels had toppled to the ground, leaving a silvery slick running into the grass. Other barrels have developed cracks, leaving a thick treacle of muck.

No security was seen and there were two sections in the wall surrounding the 52 500m² property where cement slabs had been removed.

In a terse e-mailed response to queries on Wednesday, Nelmari Cloete, representing Pretoriabased liquidators Xirimele Trustees, said: “The matter is being dealt with by the Department of Environmental Affairs, which may result in further litigation.

“The matter is viewed by the liquidators as sub judice, therefore no information will be disclosed.

“We are not prepared to assist third parties with no interest in an insolvent estate with any information regarding requests,” she wrote.

Cloete did, however, say on the phone the problem of the waste had been reported to the Department of Environmental Affairs at the outset of the liquidation, believed to have gone through in 2009.

Eastern Cape chief director of compliance and enforcement for environmental affairs Div de Villiers said they were aware Formalchem was being investigated for hazardous waste, but said the matter was being handled by the national department.

The national office promised a response yesterday, but this did not arrive.

However, industry sources were scathing about the problem, which could involve up to 10 000 barrels of methanol and urea formaldehyde glue inside two industrial sheds which were not seen by the Dispatch.

Formalchem produced glue used in the manufacture of plywood for a leading manufacturer, but it was said the company lost its supply business and tanked.

The Dispatch was also told of 14 containers capable of holding 1.9million litres containing unconfirmed amounts of toxic sludge.

Industry sources said formaldehyde was a classified toxic and flammable chemical. Overexposure could lead to death. Methanol was also potentially deadly. Workers required protective clothing.

The plant is broken down. Walls and roofing have collapsed in places, and chunks have been taken out of towers where parts have been cut out, leaving electrical wires and chemical waste pipes broken and exposed.

“After some items were auctioned off in 2010, people removed their acquisitions by cutting them off or detaching them and left pipes leaking formalin, methanol or other toxic chemicals into the yard,” the Dispatch was told.

“Why and how was this allowed to happen?” DA environment spokesman John Cupido asked.

He demanded to know how much damage was caused to people, animals and the environment.

Cupido said: “An environmental impact study needs to be done immediately to see what damage has been caused by the chemicals and the recuperation measures that must be taken.

“It is completely unacceptable that these chemicals have been allowed to remain for as long as they have. The department needs to immediately put in measures for the proper disposal of the chemicals.”

He called for disciplinary charges to be brought against officials and for measures to prevent further occurrences.

“I will be asking the provincial and national departments how well and how often they monitor companies that deal with hazardous materials and chemicals,” he said. —