Illegal dump a health hazard

2015-06-29 11:45
Duzi-uMgeni Conservation Trust’s Sanele Vilakazi and Nkosinathi Nene stand in front of Phayiphini’s expansive illegal dumping ground which has proved to be both an environmental and health hazard.

Duzi-uMgeni Conservation Trust’s Sanele Vilakazi and Nkosinathi Nene stand in front of Phayiphini’s expansive illegal dumping ground which has proved to be both an environmental and health hazard. (Jonathan Burton)

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AN illegal and growing asbestos dump in the middle of a densely populated area in Mpumuza, bordering Prestbury, could have dire effects on the community if it is not cleared immediately.

Hundreds of metres of land right on the doorsteps of houses are overflowing with rotting animals, burnt wood and tyres, asbestos roofing, old furniture, rotting food and broken glass.

Goats and pigs rummage through heaps of rubbish whilst children play along the rubble-littered banks of the ­illegal dump.

Small fires have started around the dump and the stench emanating from the general waste and rotting livestock is unbearable.

Experts have said the massive dump along the banks of a water catchment feeding the Duzi River is “extremely ­dangerous” as asbestos fibres — a known cause of cancer when inhaled — are constantly being blown about in the wind or made airborne by dump fires.

The dump in the Phayiphini area lies in a catchment area for one of Ashdown River’s main tributaries which eventually feeds the Duzi River. The asbestos is mixed with everyday garbage including car parts.

Duzi-uMgeni Conservation Trust general manager Doug Burden said the dumping, which is on municipal land, started three years ago with the ­community dumping general waste after the garbage trucks did not come or were late to pick up the rubbish.

“After the huge hail storm a few months ago, people came to dump ­damaged asbestos roofs. When asbestos breaks down, it becomes airborne and is extremely dangerous.”

The devastating supercell hailstorm that ravaged Pietermaritzburg on ­February 6, damaged hundreds of cars, houses and buildings across the city.

Clumps of asbestos in various stages of breakdown have been dumped in an area around the river catchment and any amount of wind can cause asbestos ­particles to break off into the air.

groundWork waste campaigner Musa Chamane said illegal dumps had ­become a trend in rural areas as a lack of service delivery often forced residents to start dumping their garbage illegally.

He said the dumping of asbestos was an area of great concern because of how hazardous the substance was.

“Asbestos has a high chemical ­content, and when it starts to break down, it turns into a powder that can be carried by the wind.

“If people are exposed to this, they can develop asbestosis (a lung disease caused by breathing in asbestos ­particles) and can lead to cancer in some cases,” he said.

Chamane added that the asbestos dump needed to be attended to immediately as it was a “dangerous” situation for people in and around the area to be living in.

“The municipality needs to remove the asbestos and other dangerous waste.

“Some people believe that asbestos manufactured now is safe but when it breaks down, it is not safe at all.”

Msunduzi Municipality municipal spokesperson Nqobile Madonda said the Environmental Health Sub-Unit is responsible for ensuring proper refuse storage, collection and final disposal of most of the city’s waste but that asbestos was deemed a hazardous material and so needed a special permit to be ­destroyed.

“The illegal dumping issue will be ­investigated by both our environmental health and security departments. The waste department has also been asked to attend to the cleaning.”

Madonda said hazardous waste was normally collected by private ­contractors and dumped at various ­hazardous waste sites, with the nearest site being near Shongweni.

WASTE management company ­EnviroServ has volunteered its ­expertise and help in the clean-up, ­removal and disposal of asbestos found at the illegal dump.

EnviroServ’s national laboratory manager Mahmood Patel said the disposal of asbestos is controlled by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). “All forms of asbestos are assumed to be extremely hazardous.

“The utilisation and destruction of asbestos, when used as part of the feedstock into cement or in an incineration process, may be acceptable, but application for a permit to do so must be made to the DEA,” said Patel.

He said asbestos is an “indigenous fibrous mineral” that has been mined in a “number of sites in Southern ­Africa” and because of its excellent ­resistance to heat, has been used for the “manufacture of various products since the 1900s”.

“Many studies have described a link between occupational exposure to ­various types of asbestos and lung ­cancer and associated diseases and has therefore been designated as a known human carcinogen.” — WR

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  illegal dump
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