Deadly sewage spill

2018-02-23 13:30
Hayley McNeill comforts the depressed calf on her farm outside Howick after his mother died from allegedly drinking water contaminated with sewerage.

Hayley McNeill comforts the depressed calf on her farm outside Howick after his mother died from allegedly drinking water contaminated with sewerage. (Ian Carbutt)

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Residents of an upmarket Merrivale estate and neighbouring farms are outraged after a cow died when sewage poured on to their properties.

They say the sewage spill is a common occurrence — at least once a month — and is damaging their own health as well as that of their livestock.

Local residents believe the sewage overflow comes from the Howick West community and pours on to their properties when the stormwater drain is blocked.

Farm owners Sharleen McNeill and her daughter Hayley told The Witness that on Saturday night sewage streamed down their driveway and on to the field where some of their cows were grazing.

Their veterinarian believes that one of their milk cows, Lavender, consumed some of the sewage and fell ill. The McNeills had to have Lavender put down after several attempts to save her.

“This problem occurs at least once a month now, and when I checked on the animals on Saturday at dusk all was fine. By sunrise the fields were full of water and it was flowing like a river in the drainage swales. I love my animals dearly and look after them like children so find this unacceptable,” said Hayley.

When The Witness visited the farm on Wednesday the family’s vet, Dr Dave Gibbs, was performing a post mortem on Lavender.

Gibbs said the cow’s rumen and gastrointestinal tract had shut down which resulted in a “metabolic crisis” (ketosis). He explained that it was very difficult to restore normal function if the natural healthy microflora in the rumen (one of the cow’s stomachs) is severely compromised.

“There are many causes for the rumen shutting down, but drinking contaminated water is a conceivable and probable one,” he said.

Lavender also had a condition called gangrenous mastitis, which was also possibly related to her exposure to sewage. “The combination was lethal,” said Gibbs.

Gibbs said he had attempted to treat Lavender on Tuesday morning but had to put her down that evening.

Hayley said losing Lavender was “heartbreaking” and she now has to feed the milk cow’s two-week-old calf, Boswell.

She was considering selling off all her livestock because she feared others might get sick. “It is all just so frustrating,” she said.

The McNeills have been on the farm for two years and said the previous owners had the same problem. In January Hayley was treated in hospital with severe vomiting after a previous sewage spill.

Neville Henderson, who has lived at the nearby Sakabula Country Estate for 10 years, said the sewage runs through his property and on to the golf course. On some occasions he has seen faeces running through his property.

“The most frustrating thing about this whole situation is that we have our own septic system on our property because we live in a country estate, yet we still have to deal with the sewage that comes from other places,” he said.

Sakabula Country Estate resident Nevile Henderson stands next to a furrow that turned into a river of sewerage. 

Liz Taylor, from the Duzi-Umngeni Conservation Trust (Duct), said she was aware of the sewage spills in the area and urged Umgeni Water to take action. “It is very unfortunate that people and animals in the affected areas have to suffer when these spillages occur,” she said.

Umgeni Water manages the Mpophomeni-Howick system on behalf of uMgungundlovu District Municipality. Spokesperson Shami Harichunder said the overflows were a result of blockages in the sewers caused by silt entering open manholes. Vandals had stolen sewer covers and the problem was exacerbated by heavy rains.

“The situation was brought to our attention by a resident and we responded immediately. Repairs have since been completed and covers replaced where required,” he said.

Harichunder said the Mpophomeni-Howick sewer line was being patrolled daily. “While Umgeni Water does everything practically possible to safeguard infrastructure it owns and manages, communities are simultaneously urged to assist us by reporting acts of vandalism and theft,” Harichunder said. He also pointed out that a waste water treatment plant was being constructed at Mpophomeni and this would “minimise or eradicate the risk of blockages and accompanying spills”.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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