25 March 2023 | 02:02 PM

Watch: The UPL chemical warehouse disaster explained


In July 2021, South Africa was gripped by widespread unrest. Amid the chaos of the insurrection, a pesticide warehouse in Durban was set alight. The fallout caused a major ecological disaster. Rivers turned a luminous blue, fish and crustaceans died by the thousands. While nearby residents, exposed to the fire’s toxic fumes, have started to wonder if they will suffer any permanent damage to their health.

International agrochemical giant UPL, which rents the KwaZulu Natal-based warehouse, refused to provide answers about what chemicals were being stored in their warehouse at the time of the blaze — prompting amaBhungane reporters to roll up their sleeves and start digging. 

AmaB’s investigative journalists, Susan Comrie and Dewald van Rensburg, explain in this video how they set about uncovering what toxic chemicals were on site at the time of the blaze, and what they discovered is quite terrifying. 

Watch the video to find out why.

Plus, read amaB’s series into the UPL chemical warehouse fire:

*Here it is: The toxic stockpile of chemicals in torched Durban warehouse *UPL fire: Here’s the full inventory of chemicals in the destroyed Cornubia warehouse *UPL chemical disaster: A gaping legal loophole or jaw-dropping negligence? *UPL disaster: Initial tests found high levels of arsenic from Durban’s chemical spill *UPL disaster: Residents kept in the dark about dangers on their doorstep

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Aisha Abdool Karim

Aisha is a freelance science and health reporter. She is joining the amaB team to work on a project about water and sanitation. Aisha’s passion for long-form narrative and investigative journalism was sparked while doing her master’s degree at Columbia University in New York. After graduating in 2018, she returned to South Africa and began working as a general beat reporter for the Daily Maverick. Aisha joined the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism in 2020 to focus on science reporting. During her time there, she covered the COVID-19 pandemic extensively — from fact-checking harmful medical misinformation to unpacking the science behind vaccine development. Aisha’s special interests include analysing health systems and in-depth coverage of public health issues and infectious diseases. She also loves spreadsheets and digging through data.

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