British multinational Thor has agreed to foot a R300 million toxic waste removal bill in order to meet the department of environmental affairs’ 2020 deadline for the removal of more than 3,000 tons of mercury waste stockpiles at the old Thor Chemicals factory in KwaZulu-Natal.

Business Day reports that drums of toxic sludge have been stored at the Cato Ridge plant that the company owns and used to run ever since it moved its mercury incinerator plant from Margate, Kent, in the UK in the mid-70s. The Cato Ridge plant was shut down in the early 90s.

Large numbers of Thor Chemicals workers who were exposed to the hazardous chemical waste were diagnosed with mercury poisoning and died painful deaths in the late 1980s and 1990s. This led to the company’s move and the subsequent shutting down of their plant.

Due to recent events, the company has agreed to export the waste to Switzerland, where it will be disposed of.

Theft of some containers of the toxic substance by zama-zama miners as well as a fire that environmental organisations estimate led to the leak of more than 30 tons of mercury waste into the environment put the facility squarely in the sights of the minister of environmental affairs, forestry and fisheries, Barbara Creecy.

According to Business Day, Creecy promised to take immediate action to ensure the chemicals were moved from the site and destroyed.