Toxic river spill

Peo­ple fall ill, pup­pies die af­ter drink­ing con­tam­i­nated wa­ter

The Herald (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - Es­telle El­lis el­[email protected]­me­dia.co.za

AMAJOR in­dus­trial spill, which is threat­en­ing to de­velop into an eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter for the al­ready heav­ily pol­luted Swartkops River, has been ig­nored for al­most a month as peo­ple fall ill and pets die.

The Nel­son Man­dela Bay Mu­nic­i­pal­ity was first in­formed of the spill in the Mark­man In­dus­tria area on June 3, but has done noth­ing, de­spite three peo­ple need­ing med­i­cal help for se­ri­ous res­pi­ra­tory dis­tress and two lit­ters of pup­pies dy­ing af­ter drink­ing the con­tam­i­nated wa­ter.

Early in­ves­ti­ga­tions have in­di­cated a blocked sew­er­age pipe is caus­ing an over­flow into the stormwa­ter canal sys­tem in the in­dus­trial sec­tion, but other nearby wa­ter­ways are also af­fected.

Of­fi­cials from waste-man­age­ment com­pany En­vi­roserv – which says it is very concerned – and East­ern Cape Wa­ter Af­fairs wa­ter qual­ity man­ager David Bligh took pic­tures and wa­ter sam­ples yes­ter­day.

Zwartkops Con­ser­vancy en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fi­cer Jenny Rump said she had never seen any­thing like this spill, which had caused a foamy, grey, fatty sub­stance to set­tle on the wa­ter.

At Mark­man In­dus­tria – where the spill is be­lieved to have orig­i­nated – a heavy stench hung in the air yes­ter­day.

Man­holes have be­come clogged with the sub­stance and raw sewage spills out of oth­ers along Stude­baker Street, while high-pres­sure sew­er­age pipes spill their con­tent into busi­ness premises.

At the Stude­baker pump sta­tion, sewage poured out of clogged pipes as mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials lay fast asleep in trucks, which have been used in a fu­tile at­tempt to re­move the block­ages.

The Mark­man stormwa­ter canal has stopped flow­ing in places, with the wa­ter cov­ered in a thick, fatty sub­stance which is killing off reeds and block­ing drains.

En­vi­roserv tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Esme Gom­bault said the Mark­man canal ran di­rectly ad­ja­cent to En­vi­roserv’s Aloes land­fill site and the spillage was of great con­cern.

“We have de­tected the bad smell for a while,” she said.

“How­ever, in the last month it has be­come much more ap­par­ent.

“We would not like to spec­u­late, but based on the in­for­ma­tion we have on hand it seems that the sew­er­age sys­tem needs to be thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gated.

“It ap­pears a blocked sew­er­age pipe is caus­ing an over­flow into the stormwa­ter canal sys­tem.

“En­vi­roserv can con­firm that nei­ther the odours be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced in the area nor the in­dus­trial chem­i­cals em­anate from the Aloes land-

fill site. The odour de­tected in the area is a hy­dro­gen sul­phide smell and the lev­els on site, as mon­i­tored by in­de­pen­dent ex­ter­nal air qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing ex­perts [Geo­zone], are ex­tremely low at present.”

Rump said she had first spot­ted soapy foam, mea­sur­ing sev­eral me­tres high in places, from Gra­ham­stown Road.

Aloes com­mu­nity leader Eileen Le­an­der said she had needed med­i­cal help.

“My chest closed up com­pletely. I couldn’t breathe at all,” she said.

Le­an­der went to hos­pi­tal over the weekend and two other res­i­dents had to be rushed to the Wells Es­tate clinic af­ter they also de­vel­oped se­ri­ous breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

Le­an­der said two lit­ters of pup­pies had died af­ter drink­ing wa­ter that flowed in a stream be­side nearby houses.

She said peo­ple who came into con­tact with the wa­ter had de­vel­oped blis­ters.

“It has been like this since the mid­dle of May,” she said.

“Two lit­ters of pup­pies drank the wa­ter, their stom­achs swelled up and they died.”

Res­i­dents are com­pelled to walk through the pol­luted wa­ter to get to the road as there is no bridge over the stream.

Rump said she had asked the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to send out earth-mov­ing equip­ment to move the dy­ing reeds block­ing the wa­ter from mov­ing past the small set­tle­ment.

“We don’t know what chem­i­cal went into the wa­ter so I am not sure what im­pact it will have on the Swartkops River,” she said.

“But if it is acidic, it will kill the aquatic life.”

Bligh ar­rived at the Aloes set­tle­ment yes­ter­day to take wa­ter sam­ples with gloved hands.

Rump said there had been no re­sponse from the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, de­spite sev­eral re­quests.

Act­ing city man­ager Jo­hann Met­tler has not re­sponded to a re­quest for com­ment.

Mu­nic­i­pal spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said he had re­ceived a re­sponse from of­fi­cials but it was “too short to share”.

In e-mails seen by The Her­ald, mu­nic­i­pal trade ef­flu­ent con­troller Jerome Kritzinger – af­ter be­ing in­formed of the prob­lem – said he had been around to the Mark­man area daily for the past few weeks.

He said that in an at­tempt to deal with the “over­load­ing” of the sew­er­age sys­tem, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity was us­ing tankers to suck sewage from man­holes “when­ever the man­holes start lift­ing” and then trans­port­ing it to the Brick­fields Pre­treat­ment Works.

It is un­der­stood the mu­nic­i­pal­ity will have an ur­gent meet­ing today to dis­cuss the is­sue.

The Igazi Foun­da­tion’s en­vi­ron­men­tal mon­i­tor­ing group, Leukaemia In­ci­dence: Vi­tal En­vi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies, also re­acted to the pol­lu­tion.

Mem­ber Sue Hoff­man said the or­gan­i­sa­tion was concerned about the lives and well­be­ing of the peo­ple af­fected by the spill.

Pic­tures: EU­GENE COET­ZEE

POL­LU­TION MEN­ACE: Jenny Rump, of the Zwartkops Con­ser­vancy, inspects the acidic toxic sludge that has made its way into the Mark­man canal and is caus­ing grow­ing con­cern

GET­TING WORSE: The pol­lu­tion run­ning into the Mark­man Canal is be­com­ing more se­vere since it was first spot­ted last month

DAN­GER­OUS WORK: Wear­ing pro­tec­tive gloves, Wa­ter Af­fairs wa­ter qual­ity man­ager David Bligh takes sam­ples

DEADLY STREAM: Three peo­ple have taken ill and dogs have died while the mu­nic­i­pal­ity has done noth­ing

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