An alert truck driver sent to deliver 19 tonnes of poisonous sodium cyanide to Harare's main waterworks averted disaster last Wednesday when he raised alarm just when he was about to offload the chemical.
The driver told workers at Morton Jaffray Water Treatment Plant that he suspected he was carrying a poisonous chemical.
The workers were preparing to offload the chemical into drums, which they would have used to "treat" water for consumption by Harare residents.
They were expecting to receive liquid aluminum sulphate water treatment chemical on the day.
Sources said there was a mix up, resulting in the driver with the truck loaded with sodium cyanide being sent to deliver the chemical to the water treatment plant.
The workers at the plant informed town clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi after being alerted by the driver.
Dr Mahachi directed that the consignment be returned to Bak Storage.
Sources close to the matter said over 19 tonnes of the deadly chemical were being delivered through a local delivery company (name supplied).
Local Government, Rural and Urban Development Minister Ignatius Chombo yesterday said he had received a report on the matter from Dr Mahachi.
"I am still studying the report. I will only be able to give a full report when I have done the necessary investigations," he said.
Dr Mahachi declined to comment and referred all questions to Minister Chombo.
"We have given a report to the minister," he said.
City officials confirmed they had refused to take in the huge consignment, which was received through Bak Storage.
Last week, the city water supply situation was depressed with very few suburbs accessing water.
City officials blamed the shortages on the heavy pollution of Lake Manyame.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention website, cyanide is a rapidly acting, potentially deadly chemical that can exist in various forms, which can be a colourless gas, such as hydrogen cyanide (HCN) or cyanogen chloride (CNCl), or a crystal form such as sodium cyanide (NaCN) or potassium cyanide (KCN).
Hydrogen cyanide, under the name Zyklon B, is a fatal chemical that was once used as a genocidal agent by the Germans during World War II.
In manufacturing, cyanide is used to make paper, textiles and plastics and is present in the chemicals used to develop photographs.
Cyanide salts are used in metallurgy for electroplating, metal cleaning, and removing gold from its ore.
Cyanide gas is used to exterminate pests and vermin in ships and buildings.
People can be exposed to cyanide through breathing air, drinking water, eating food, or touching soil that contains its particles.
The extent of poisoning depends on the amount of cyanide a person is exposed to, route of exposure and length of exposure.
Inhaling the gas causes the most harm but ingesting it can be toxic as well.
It prevents the cells of the body from using oxygen and is more harmful to the heart and brain.
There are reports that some poachers use cyanide to kill elephants and rhinoceros. They put the chemicals in major drinking points and later come and remove horns when the animals eventually die.