Wild­fi­re smo­ke ig­ni­tes he­alth fe­ars

Knysna-Plett Herald - - News | Nuus - S­te­fan Goo­sen

To dis­pel rumours that smo­ke e­ma­na­ting from smoul­de­ring spots a­round the G­re­a­ter Knys­na a­rea – es­pe­ci­al­ly from sa­w­dust bur­ning at Geel­hout­vlei Tim­bers in Ka­ra­ta­ra – was ha­ving ad­ver­se he­alth ef­fects on re­si­dents of the Knys­na mu­ni­ci­pal a­rea, the Gar­den Rou­te Dis­trict Mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty (GRDM) re­le­a­sed a sta­te­ment last week dis­clai­ming the­se fe­ars, saying t­he­re was no se­ve­re he­alth thre­at to the sur­roun­ding com­mu­ni­ties.

T­his fol­lows en­qui­ries by an a­lar­med pu­blic, and a see­mingly pa­nic-stric­ken Facebook post on the Knys­na Gol­den Gi­rls si­te on 12 No­vem­ber war­ning in ca­pi­tal let­ters and ex­cla­ma­ti­on marks that Knys­na was in di­re dan­ger.

Si­te com­men­ter Sa­rah Cur­tis’ post said an in­de­pen­dent ex­pert would be set­ting up an air qua­li­ty mo­ni­to­ring de­vi­ce in Knys­na for a week to ren­der a writ­ten re­port on “w­hat we’re all bre­a­thing in at pre­sent”.

Pol­lu­tant le­vels ‘through the roof’

Ac­cor­ding to her post, “the re­ports from Ge­or­ge (w­he­re our ex­pert is ba­sed and cur­rent­ly mo­ni­to­ring) are HORRIFIC” and “T­he­re is a cle­ar, ob­vi­ous and on­going thre­at to pu­blic he­alth RIGHT NOW”. Cur­tis’ post in­clu­ded re­fe­ren­ces to *“pm10” and “pm2.5” le­vels as al­re­a­dy being “through the roof ’’.

In the GRDM sta­te­ment re­le­a­sed on Tu­es­day 13 No­vem­ber, the dis­trict mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty said that the e­mis­si­ons are cau­sed by bi­o­mass bur­ning at Geel­hout­vlei Tim­bers. “T­his a­rea con­tains pi­ne wood chips from untre­a­ted wood on­ly… It was al­re­a­dy bur­ning be­fo­re the wild­fi­re de­stroy­ed the wood mill,” the sta­te­ment said.

Pol­lu­tants e­mit­ted from t­his smoul­de­ring a­rea are “main­ly ox­i­des of ni­tro­gen, par­ti­cu­la­te mat­ter, car­bon mo­nox­i­de, CO2 and small con­cen­tra­ti­ons of vo­la­ti­le or­ga­nic com­pounds”, GRDM sta­ted, ad­ding that “the­se com­pounds nor­mal­ly form part of the pol­lu­tants e­mit­ted w­hen bi­o­mass burns”. It went on to say the fire po­ses no se­ve­re he­alth thre­at but will re­sult in a nuis­an­ce ef­fect, “de­pen­ding on the dis­tan­ce from the sour­ce, the wind speed and or di­recti­on the­re­of.”

The sta­te­ment did men­ti­on that, du­ring a joint o­pe­ra­ti­ons meet­ing held on the mor­ning of 13 No­vem­ber, a de­ci­si­on was ta­ken that Geel­hout­vlei’s o­w­ners should be in­for­med that the si­tu­a­ti­on is trig­ge­ring a Na­ti­o­nal En­vi­ron­men­tal Ma­na­ge­ment Act, Secti­on 30 in­ci­dent.

‘O­w­ner must ta­ke re­a­so­na­ble steps’

Ac­cor­ding to the GRDM sta­te­ment, an in­ci­dent li­ke t­his in­vol­ves, a­mong ot­hers, the u­nex­pected, sud­den and un­con­trol­led re­le­a­se from a ma­jor e­mis­si­on such as a fire and that sub­se­quent­ly, the o­w­ner of the pro­per­ty must ta­ke all re­a­so­na­ble me­a­su­res to con­tain and mi­ni­mi­se the ef­fects of the in­ci­dent, un­der­ta­ke cle­a­nup pro­ce­du­res and re­me­dy the ef­fects of the in­ci­dent. The sta­te­ment ad­ded that, should the pro­per­ty o­w­ners not re­spond to t­his in­structi­on, the re­le­vant aut­ho­ri­ty may fol­low steps and im­ple­ment me­a­su­res it con­si­ders ne­ces­sa­ry to con­tain and mi­ni­mi­se the ef­fects.

So­ci­al me­dia a­boun­ded with news that Geel­hout­vlei last week star­ted ta­king ap­pro­pri­a­te acti­on, which was con­fir­med by GRDM on 14 No­vem­ber.

A Geel­hout­vlei Tim­ber re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ve de­cli­ned to com­ment on the si­tu­a­ti­on.

GRDM’s air qua­li­ty ma­na­ger Dr Jo­hann S­choe­man con­fir­med that on­ly untre­a­ted pi­ne wood chips we­re burnt at Geel­hout­vlei Tim­bers. “It is the fi­ne par­ti­cu­la­tes in smo­ke that po­ses the hig­hest risk (par­ti­cu­la­te mat­ter). The el­der­ly, pe­op­le with chro­nic di­se­a­ses and c­hild­ren will be af­fected mo­re. Nor­mal­ly he­althy pe­op­le won’t be af­fected so much, but it will ha­ve a nuis­an­ce ef­fect on pe­op­le,” he said re­gar­ding the ef­fects it mig­ht ha­ve on pe­op­le.

How to pro­tect your­self

For pe­op­le to pro­tect them­sel­ves, said S­choe­man, t­hey should try to stay ind­oors w­he­ne­ver pos­si­ble. “If you ha­ve chro­nic di­se­a­ses such as asth­ma, lung and he­art di­se­a­se, rat­her vi­sit your doc­tor for me­di­cal ad­vi­ce. You can we­ar gas mas­ks if you can­not es­ca­pe or tem­po­ra­ri­ly re­lo­ca­te to a f­riend or fa­mi­ly,” he ad­ded.

* A quick web se­arch re­vea­led that “PM10” and “PM2.5” are re­a­dings of­ten in­clu­ded in air qua­li­ty re­ports from en­vi­ron­men­tal aut­ho­ri­ties and com­pa­nies. PM2.5 re­fers to at­mos­p­her­ic par­ti­cu­la­te mat­ter (PM) that ha­ve a di­a­me­ter of less than 2.5 mi­cro­me­tres, which is a­bout 3% the di­a­me­ter of a hu­man hair, w­hi­le PM10 is par­ti­cu­la­te mat­ter 10 mi­cro­me­tres or less in di­a­me­ter. PM2.5, al­so cal­led “fi­ne par­ti­cu­la­tes”, is a mo­re se­ri­ous he­alth con­cern than “PM10”, sin­ce smal­ler par­ti­cles can tra­vel mo­re dee­ply in­to the lungs and cau­se mo­re harm­ful ef­fects. Par­ti­cu­la­te mat­ter re­fers to fi­ne par­ti­cles in the air that are de­t­ri­men­tal to your he­alth.

P­ho­to: Chris du P­les­sis

Smo­ke fil­led Knys­na’s skies for days on end af­ter fi­res hit the Gar­den Rou­te.

P­ho­to: S­te­fan Goo­sen

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