Residents sick of the smell

2009-11-24 00:00

CHILDREN playing in water in ­Mpophomeni are at risk of getting sick because what they think is water ­is ­actually raw sewage.

Sewer manholes in parts of the township have been spilling periodically for about four years, said Mdu Mchunu, an environmental education practitioner working with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa), the Mondi Wetlands Programme (MWP) and Duct (the Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust).

“Many residents in homes close to the manholes complain about the smell and the fact that their children often get sick. They suffer from diarrhoea, rashes and sore eyes, among other things.

“Some local residents have sold their homes and relocated because of the smell and their children getting sick so often. One resident said her relatives refused to visit her because of the smell from the spewing manholes. She eventually relocated from eMhlangeni to another section away from the sewer.”

He said the health problems experienced were also partly because more than 100 houses were built in the wetland. Rising damp is visible on the walls of many homes. “Residents say their homes are often flooded when the ­water table rises. Sometimes the sewage comes back up the toilet too, because the sewers get flooded.”

The sewer lines that serve the township run parallel to two streams that flow into the wetlands below the town. In some areas, such as Ecabazini, B5 and Ebumnandini, sewage from discharging manholes runs into the Mthinzima stream, which flows through the wetland and into Midmar Dam.

Mchunu has been monitoring the health state of Mthinzima stream and its impact on the wetland system. He tested the water in the stream as it leaves the township and on two occasions found an E.coli level of 300 000 per 100 millilitres. A safe level for human contact with water, such as swimming, is 185 per 100 millilitres.

After the polluted water has flowed through the wetland the bacterial count is much lower, Mchunu said. “This means that the small wetland ­below Mpophomeni is working hard to clean the water and reduce the sewage contamination levels.”

Mchunu and representatives of MWP, Wessa and Duct recently took members of the uMgungundlovu District Municipality’s (UMDM) water and sanitation team on a tour of the ­Mpophomeni sewers. “We showed them eight spilling manholes, including one where the concrete structure has been destroyed, leaving a deep hole full of sewage. Some of the officials were shocked by what they saw,” ­Mchunu said.

Response: Mgungundlovu District Municpality

WHEN The Witness went with Mchunu to the wetlands, a UMDM technical team was on site unblocking sewers and repairing broken pipes. Mchunu paid tribute to the work the teams do, but said that the district authority faced huge challenges in its responsibility for water and sanitation, which it has recently taken over from local municipalities.

“The UMDM technical team is short-staffed. They have to respond to sewage spills, broken pipes, water leaks and other water and sanitation problems in the whole of the uMngeni municipal area with a team of only 24. This includes only three qualified plumbers.”

UMDM municipal manager, Sbu Khuzwayo said the team had to remove stones and unnecessary heavy objects to clear the pipeline. “This is an ongoing problem in Mpophomeni because community members throw objects into the manholes that then block the sewer lines and create spillages. For example, teams have found stones, cowhides, car tyres and even dead babies in the sewerage ­system.

“The problem was resolved, but we are well aware that it will come back as our teams have to clear a number of blockages every day. Our short-term plan is to embark on aggressive consumer education to sensitise our communities to the importance of not throwing objects into the sewer manholes.”

He said the district council had approved a new staff structure to increase its human capacity and “we will employ new staff members as soon as humanly possible.”

With regard to equipment, the district had acquired a new fleet through a partnership with G Fleet (a government-owned ­facility) to reduce turnaround time. It had also purchased new jetting machines to deal with sewer blockages and new TLBs (diggers).

“Moreover, there is a noticeable lifting of staff morale and the ­political will to put the municipality on a sustainable path to the future. Our ultimate goal ... is to improve our service to the ­communities that we serve,” Khuzwayo said.


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