Clean-up to cost millions

2019-08-16 15:04
Spill Tech workers carrying out cleaning operations at the Grimthorpe low level bridge yesterday. PHOTO: moeketsi mamane

Spill Tech workers carrying out cleaning operations at the Grimthorpe low level bridge yesterday. PHOTO: moeketsi mamane

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The Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust (Duct), says it is going to cost millions of rands to save Pietermaritzburg’s rivers that are swamped by pollution.

Painting a bleak picture of the levels of pollution in the Duzi river and all its tributaries, Duct’s Faye Brownell, said if the situation is not remedied in the next five years, there will be no resource to save.

Brownell said this week’s 240-ton effluent spill into the Baynespruit tributary has greatly worsened an existing crisis.

“From a biological and chemical perspective, there is continuous pollution into our local rivers,” Brownell said.

She said the present penalties imposed on industries polluting the rivers are not high enough and have no impact.

Thobeka Mafumbatha, Msunduzi municipal spokesperson, confirmed that admission of guilt fines for contravening municipal bylaws governing pollution ranged between R500 and R5 000.

“The relevant units within the council have applied to the chief magistrate to review and increase the fines and enforcement officials are awaiting the approval.”

She also confirmed that the microbiological and chemical compliance of water samples analysed along the Duzi was “unsatisfactory”.

“High E. coli levels are common throughout the Duzi river and tributaries. These are generally attributed to ageing sewer infrastructure and resultant discharge of sewage into the water courses.

“Raw water from the rivers and streams is unsuitable for consumption and in some cases recreational and agricultural purposes.”

Mafumbatha added that the municipality’s Environmental Unit together with other departments was investigating and verifying compliance at Willowton Oil Mills from which this week’s catostrophic spill emanated.

Mafumbatha said Drizit and Spill Tech workers were still busy with clean-up and containment operations both along the river and Willowton Oil Mills premises.

Mafumbatha added that the city’s environmental health unit had issued 120 notices between July 2018 and June 2019 and 250 summonses for the same period to industrial premises in the city.

Brownell told The Witness the pollution of the city’s river system is a “very significant problem”.

“The levels of E. coli are shocking and that’s only one measure, there are other problems.

She said action was urgently needed.

“If we don’t do something now in five years’ time we are not going to have a resource to fix,” she said.

According to the Pietermaritzburg area Duzi river and its tributary E. coli monitoring statistics, the Baynespruit river, which cuts through Sobantu, Eastwood, the Mountain Rise industrial area, Cinderella Park and Madiba Park has the highest levels of E. coli.

The latest monitoring showed the E. coli levels for the Baynespruit had increased from 307 600 E. coli per 100ml in January this year to 727 000 per 100ml in the first week of August.

Brownell said this shows the river is “highly toxic”.

“The water is not fit to drink or [even] for agricultural irrigation, especially on fresh produce. They have detected pathogens like salmonella, which can cause severe diarrhoea and could be very dangerous to sick or old people and pregnant women,” she warned.

“I would not even recommend that children swim in that river,” she said.

Brownell said for drinking purposes, the accepted level of E. coli is zero.

“For recreational use, the acceptable limit in this area is 10 000 E. coli per 100ml.”

The safe level for swimming is 130 counts per 100 ml.

Other high levels of E. coli for August were recorded in the Dorpspruit River at 27 550. The Msunduzi/Darvill river recorded 24 196 levels of E. coli. “The results in the river showing E. coli are just escalating at an astronomical rate,” Brownell said

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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