Toxic beads wash up in PE af­ter Durban spill

The Herald (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - Guy Rogers rogersg@ti­soblack­

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.

Pic­ture: ROBYN HY­MAN

SMALL BUT DAN­GER­OUS: The nur­dles col­lected on Hume­wood Beach

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