The poisoned land

The poisoned land

Dirty secrets of frightening mercury contamination haunt neighbours. 

A fire at A-Thermal, a highly toxic waste incineration site in Olifantsfontein, Gauteng, has brought to light a dirty secret: more than 40 tonnes of mercury-laden waste – delivered by South Africa’s biggest storekeeper of the deadly metal – was burned and released into the environment in September 2013 when the plant burned to the ground; and authorities still appear to be clueless as to just how toxic the waste was.

To this day, the nearby community and environmental groups have not been told what other chemicals were destroyed in the inferno.

The sender of the waste was a KwaZulu-Natal facility, Guernica Chemicals, once known as Thor Chemicals, when it was a British-owned multinational company that for several decades, imported mercury waste from global polluters to its facility for safe-keeping and recycling. It has since been rebranded as Guernica Chemicals – along with a second offshoot, Metallica – and remains based in Cato Ridge, just outside Durban. In the 1990s Thor was shut down when workers died from excessive mercury contamination.

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