Olifants River highly contaminated

2010-04-23 21:11

Nelspruit - The Olifants River in Mpumulanga is highly contaminated, researchers said on Friday.

Microbiologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Martella du Preez, said all the sites along the river showed mild to heavy microbial contamination most likely due to untreated, or poorly-treated, sewage flowing into it.

"People using untreated water from these contaminated sites face a high risk of contracting disease," she said.

The samples were contaminated by micro-organisms in the form of bacteria, viruses and protozoan parasites as well as norovirus and enterovirus (diarrhoea).

High risk

The E. coli bacteria, an indicator of faecal matter in water, exceeded the guideline values indicating a high risk for diarrhoea.

She said local communities who relied on the Olifants River for drinking and washing water should be provided with alternative sources of water.

They should be prevented from taking water directly from heavily contaminated sites such as the Olifants River below the Riverview waste water and sewage treatment plant in Witbank, as well as the stretch along the informal settlement next to the Klipspruit before it enters the main stream of the Olifants.

The Olifants River Forum commissioned the CSIR in 2009 to conduct a study on the progressive eutrophication - when water receives excessive nutrients that stimulate excessive plant growth - and chemical pollution of the river and the implications for aquatic ecosystem health and human health.


According to the forum's chairperson Vik Cogho, they would continue to work closely with industry, the local authorities and farmers to address some of the immediate problems facing the Olifants River and Loskop Dam.

Cogho called on local communities to come together to help with the improvement and conservation of the river.

"If we don't work together to improve the river's water quality before it flows into Loskop Dam, the consequences will be too dire even to consider...," he said.

Researchers said they had found pansteatitis, a disease caused by the depletion of anti-oxidants, in Largescale yellowfish caught in the upper catchment of the river.

According to Drs Jan Myburgh and Johan Steyl from the department of paraclinical sciences, faculty of veterinary science at the University of Pretoria, this was the first report of pansteatitis in fish from the upper Olifants River.