Concerns over humans and wildlife being affected have been raised following the major oil spill in the Dorpsruit on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust (Duct) received reports of a thick, tar-like oil blanketing parts of the Dorpspruit, flowing through the Royal Showgrounds.
Several birds, including a duckling and a gosling, were saved from the oil-covered water after becoming too exhausted trying to keep their heads above the water.
Duct, along with the Msunduzi Municipality, followed the trail of oil to an area behind Grey’s Hospital and the KwaZulu-Natal Licensing Department, however, the exact source could not be established.
After Tuesday night and Wednesday's rain, the oil remained on the water’s surface, with the stench of chemicals heavy in the air.
A source said the oil would remain in the river as the municipality did not have the budget to conduct the clean-up, unless the culprit behind the spill was found and made to pay for the operation.
The source said the cost of a clean-up such as this would be “extremely expensive”, as the oil would have to be removed, the underground pipe system cleaned and the soil at the water’s edge rehabilitated.
“A company needs to be held liable to foot the bill, otherwise there is no funding available to clean up the spill,” said the source.
“The spill will definitely take its toll on the wildlife living in and around the river, and could even affect the people in Sobantu who sometimes catch and eat fish from the river.”
The source said the river would not be cleaned until money was provided to undertake the task.
Duct pollution control officer Sanele Vilakazi said action needed to be taken as soon as possible when such spills came to light.
“If there is this much oil in this part of the river, how much initially spilled out?” he asked.
Vilakazi said samples of the oil had been taken to a laboratory for testing, but the results had not yet returned.
Bobby Peek, director of groundWork, a Pietermaritzburg-based environmental activist group, said oil in the water system would be toxic to all wildlife living in and close to the water.
“The oil is toxic and will kill wildlife and it needs to be cleaned up now.
“The clean-up is more important than finding the culprit at this stage. Clean up the oil and then give the bill to the culprit later,” he said.
Municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the matter is being investigated by officials from the municipality, Duct, and the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs.
“The Department of Water and Sanitation [the custodian of water in terms of the Water Act] have also been notified,” she said.
Mafumbatha did not respond to questions about the availability of funding for the clean-up, but said: “It must be noted that the fire sub-unit responded to the spill and Hazclean assisted by placing a boom in the stream as an immediate mitigation measure.
“The culprits have not yet been identified, and holding any party responsible for the clean-up cost is not possible at this stage.”
She said that the spill meant that the draft response protocol for pollution would be revisited. The environmental health sub-unit was in the process of inspecting businesses and workshops in the precinct in question, to identify any possible sources and also to ensure compliance with applicable legislation.
The Environmental Affairs and Water and Sanitation departments had not responded to queries by the time of going to press on Wednesday.