Toxic river spill
People fall ill, puppies die after drinking contaminated water
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.
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