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Sasol sets the record straight on alleged Vaal River pollution and its participation in the SAHRC investigation

Date: 
08 April 2021

Sasol notes with concern recent media reports (published on 26 and 27 March 2021) regarding its alleged pollution of the Vaal River from its Secunda operations and associated claims and comments made, including by its former employee Mr Ian Erasmus.

We are concerned about the factual inaccuracies contained in these claims and reports.

Environmental pollution allegations

Sasol is alleged to have, through gross negligence via its Benfield operations in Secunda, pumped hazardous chemicals into the Vaal River system due to broken chemical sewer valves and also caused pollution of the Vaal River due to unlawful waste disposal activities.

While these allegations are, by and large not new, Sasol has and continues to deny these, including allegations that Mr Erasmus provided undeniable evidence to substantiate his allegations.

We have previously investigated and responded to these allegations extensively, both internally and externally, and our position below remains unchanged:

  • Sasol categorically refutes any allegation that we have intentionally/grossly negligently polluted (or continue to pollute) the Vaal River, or any other water source.
  • In our written submission to the SAHRC dated 24 April 2019, Sasol indicated that the allegations were unfounded and not substantiated by the facts.

The submission includes extensive information to confirm the correct facts surrounding the implicated operations (Benfield operations and API dams) and the associated responsible and legally compliant effluent and waste management practices.

It also confirms that the allegations made around hazardous substances such as vanadium and potassium carbonate being dumped by our Sasol Synfuels Operations into the Vaal River system are factually incorrect.

With reference to the extensive submissions made, we confirm that the likelihood of Vanadium solution from Benfield (or any other heavy metals or contaminants associated with Benfield) getting into the river is highly improbable given that Benfield is constructed within a completely bunded area and given the design and operation of the chemical drain sewer at Benfield. Further, Benfield does not have any direct outlet to the river, in fact it ties in to the oily water systems at the Secunda factory.

The bunded Benfield area is connected to a chemical sewer drain which, in turn, is a closed system with a valve leading to/draining into the factory’s oily water system. Benfield is designed for its effluents to feed into the oily water system of the plant, via the chemical sewer drain. The oily water sewer system drains into the API oily water dams.  All the water in the API oily water dams is treated and recycled for eventual use as process water in our Secunda Operations.

This excludes the disposal of off-spec effluent in the chemical drain which is disposed of by third party service providers, off site, or at the MTV waste disposal facility, on site, in accordance with the provisions of Sasol’s Waste Management License. 

SAHRC inquiry

Sasol extensively participated in the SAHRC inquiry into the pollution of the Vaal River. The inquiry commenced in September 2018 and has been concluded.

Sasol provided written and oral submissions in response to allegations by Mr Erasmus. These were provided at the formal SAHRC hearing as well as during the Commission’s site visit to Sasol’s Secunda Operations in February 2019prior to it concluding its inquiry. 

It is therefore not true that the SAHRC did nothing for two years upon receipt of the allegations against Sasol.

Early this year on 17 February 2021, the SAHRC issued its final report. It contains no findings of any kind against Sasol. 

Sasol regards the matter as concluded since we have not been advised or informed otherwise.

However, we note from media reports that the SAHRC may investigate the claims around industrial pollution separately based on the testimony of Mr Erasmus. In this regard, Sasol reiterates its position as previously communicated to the SAHRC, that we remain fully committed to cooperating with the Commission on any such inquiry, once formally notified. This includes facilitating a site visit to any of our plants for purposes of meeting the objectives of its investigation as far as reasonably possible.

Further investigations by the Environmental Management Inspectorate

We further note reports that the National Environmental Management Inspectorate (“EMI”) may conduct further investigations based on the pollution allegations.

The EMI conducted an inspection of the Sasol Secunda plant in August 2018, in particular the Benfield and Cold Separation plants as well as the licensed Medium Term Vanadium Landfill facility (“MTV Facility”) associated with the disposal of waste containing Vanadium. This followed a complaint received from an undisclosed source.

On 12 March 2019, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) under which EMI falls, confirmed on email that the inspection report had been finalised and that feedback would be provided to the complainant.

Based on the inspection findings at the time, no actions were taken against Sasol and this position has not changed.  We accordingly disagree that nothing was done by the relevant environmental authorities in relation to the allegations.

Our operations are continuously subject to various environmental authority inspections and associated compliance enforcement actions.

We respect the mandate of the environmental authorities to monitor compliance and believe that this provides the requisite oversight and assurance on compliance. Sasol has and will continue to fully collaborate with the authorities during these inspections, resolve enquiries and duly respond to subsequent enforcement actions.  

Our approach to environmental compliance management continues to be transparent and collaborative.  

Note to Editors: Sasol’s environmental compliance challenges and details of authority inspections and outcomes are reported in our annual Sustainability Report which is accessible on www.sasol.com

Whistle-blower mistreatment

Sasol is committed to the creation and sustenance of a working environment that protects all employees from all forms of discrimination and/or victimisation.

To this end, we have a whistle-blower policy that is embedded in our Code of Conduct, which we subscribe to. 

The Sasol whistle-blower policy strictly prohibits any form of retaliation against an employee who, in good faith, makes a report or raises a concern that he or she reasonably believes to be a violation of Sasol's Code of Conduct. Sasol has other varied policies and programmes that additionally focus on the empowerment and protection of all employees in the workplace.

Sasol denies any ill-treatment and/or treatment of Mr Ian Erasmus which was inconsistent with the country’s applicable Labour Laws and Sasol’s associated Policies and Codes for any reason whatsoever.

Mr Erasmus, who was an employee of Sasol working at its Secunda site, left the employ of the company after entering into a mutual separation agreement. He was assisted by a prominent law firm, on a pro bono basis, in negotiating the terms of the agreement. Mr Erasmus was not forced or coerced in any way to resign or to sign a non-disclosure agreement as per media reports.

In January 2020, Sasol commenced disciplinary proceedings against Mr Erasmus for inappropriate behaviour in the workplace over an extended period, which was inter alia affecting his work relationships with colleagues. These disciplinary proceedings were initiated and conducted in accordance with Sasol’s disciplinary procedure and applicable legislation.

The initiation and/or outcome of any disciplinary hearings to which Mr Erasmus was subjected to during his career at Sasol were not in any way related to the allegations in question or to Mr Erasmus exercising his rights as a whistle-blower. 

We wish to assure you that Sasol values all its employees and is committed to protecting them against all forms of victimisation and/or harassment.

 

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