Toxic beads wash up in PE after Durban spill
THOUSANDS of plastic beads from the mega-spill in the Durban Harbour two weeks ago, which sparked serious concerns about toxic pollution, have been washing up in Port Elizabeth.
Dr Robyn Hyman, of Dora Nginza Hospital, collected a bowl-full after spotting them on Humewood Beach and took them yesterday to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) for assessment.
Samsa head of shipping Captain Nigel Campbell said the samples would be dispatched to the authority’s Durban offices to compare with the stock that pitched off a ship on October 10 during a freak storm.
“These beads are considered a hazardous substance and there is already a directive on the shipping company involved to clean up around Durban,” he said.
“So if there is a match-up with the material found here, the clean-up will cer- tainly be extended.”
Two containers with 49 tons of the plastic polymer beads, or “nurdles”, inside pitched off a Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) vessel while it was moored in the Durban Harbour.
Nick Sloane, director of Resolve Marine Group, which is representing MSC in the clean-up, said three ships had broken their moorings in the harbour during the violent storm and the containers fell overboard when they collided.
He said he had not heard yet about the nurdles wash-up in Port Elizabeth.
“It’s a rapid deployment in two weeks but it’s possible.
“If they’re coming out at PE, that’s a massive stretch of coast that’s going to need checking.”
Sloane said the nurdles had been shipped in from Saudi Arabia and were due to be offloaded in Durban.
Durban-based South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) conservation strategist Judy Mann said the nurdles were harmless while intact, but would absorb toxins once in the seawater.
“The concern is that marine animals will eat these toxic pellets and, as they break up into smaller pieces but never disappear, even filter feeders will ingest them, and they will then spread throughout the food web,” Mann said.
Although the tonnage of the lost cargo was known, it was not yet clear how many nurdles that constituted.
“But it’s millions and millions. There’s a long way to go with this clean-up,” she said.
Bayworld has been added to the list of nurdle drop-off points which has been posted on the SAAMBR website together with a description and photograph of what the nurdles look like.
Anyone who comes across them is asked to post a message or photograph detailing exactly where and when they were found to guide the mop-up team.
Hyman said the nurdles had lined the high-water mark at Humewood Beach on Sunday when she spotted them.
“They look like little shells, but I had received posts from friends [about the spill] so I realised what they were.”
Oceanographer Dr Eckart Schumann said the in-shore Agulhas current, which moves southwest down the South African coast from off Mozambique, was the likely conveyor belt which had delivered the nurdles.
SMALL BUT DANGEROUS: The nurdles collected on Humewood Beach