Toxic chemicals in Durban beach water

With only weeks to go before thousands of holiday-makers travel to KwaZulu-Natal, experts have warned that the water off many Durban beaches contains toxic chemicals.

Beaches, including Anstey’s and Brighton, are among those affected

South Durban Community Environmental Alliance activist Priya Pillay described Durban’s beaches as unsafe and unfit for holiday-makers.

“The tests carried out by the eThekwini municipality’s water and sanitation department revealed high levels of E.coli and Enterococcus bacteria, which cause cholera and gastro-intestinal illnesses,” she said.

The city tested beaches around Durban in the past year, ending in July, and the results revealed that the quality of the beach water did not meet South African water standards.

Pillay cited heavy pollution from industries in the city, as well as pollution from informal settlements as the cause.

“Beaches, including Anstey’s and Brighton, are among those affected,” she said.

In February, the bacterium Vibrio vulnificus was found at a Durban beach after a local doctor contracted it while surfing.

This bacterium, which might cause blistering and inflammation, had eaten through the tissue on Dr Peter Breedt’s foot, leaving an open wound.

He was among several people who became sick after swimming or surfing off city beaches. Continue reading

Quality of our rivers

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 24 Aug 2011

Environmental rights groups have expressed concern about the state of the country’s rivers following a report made to Parliament last week.

Those who use rivers for recreation, consume the water, or water crops all face health risks

Briefing parliament’s Water and Environmental Affairs portfolio committee, water affairs acting chief director for water resources information management, Moloko Matlala, listed the main problems affecting the quality of the country’s river water.

Microbiological tests in June found that KwaZulu-Natal’s river systems were badly affected by pollution, he said.

Those who used rivers for recreation, consume the water, or used it to water crops all faced health risks.

“Water from these rivers, if drunk untreated, poses a high risk to those consuming the water due to the presence of Escherichia coli (more commonly known as E.Coli),” he said. Continue reading

Loskop Dam water deteriorating rapidly

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 31 March 2011

By: Tamir Kahn

Farmers who depend on the Loskop Dam to irrigate their crops can breathe a sigh of relief after scientists found the water poses no immediate threat to human health, which means exports of fruit and vegetables are safe — at least for now.

CSIR warns that the water quality in the Loskop Dam is deteriorating rapidly

“It’s a great relief,” said the Loskop Irrigation Board’s Diek Engelbrecht yesterday.

Farmers have been so worried about the declining water quality in the heavily polluted Olifants River, which flows into the dam, that the irrigation board commissioned a study from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the University of Stellenbosch. Farmers were concerned that if their crops became contaminated with heavy metals or pathogens, their produce would no longer make export grade.

The dam provides water to 16000ha of agricultural land, and supports a European export market worth about R1bn a year.

The Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) last year said its members were worried that polluted water would jeopardise their livelihood. If they lost their export markets, they would have to dump produce locally and prices would fall, with knock-on effects for farmers who rely on domestic customers, it said. Continue reading

SA tap water could be undrinkable in 19 years

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 09 March 2011

Tap water in SA could be undrinkable in the next 19 years if the country does not change the way it uses water, or how it treats used water, scientists say.

Already, some of the tap water in SA contains poisons.

Blue-green algae produce toxins that rob water bodies of oxygen.

Poor quality water will negatively affect the economy, curbing the manufacturing sector directly and indirectly, says limnologist Bill Harding. Limnology is the study of freshwater bodies.

Despite Water Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica promising a turnaround in the parlous state of wastewater treatment almost a year ago, there has been no visible action taken to curb the risk from semi-treated water discharged into SA’s rivers and reservoirs, the scientists say.

Last year’s Green Drop (wastewater quality) report showed that only 32, or 3%, of SA’s estimated 850 wastewater treatment works complied with requirements for safe discharge. The report noted that only 449 of the works had been assessed, with the rest either ignoring, or being unable to comply with, the call to submit to scrutiny.

Only 32 (7%) complied with the Green Drop criteria after being measured for E. coli bacteria, nitrates, phosphates and ammonia and other nasties.

The national Green Drop Programme was launched in 2008 and was meant to cover all wastewater treatment works so as not to harm the water bodies into which they discharge their product. Continue reading

Hout Bay Disa River Pollution Protest

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 31 May 2010

IMBY (In My Back Yard), a community-oriented environmental awareness organization, held their ‘Join the Poo Parade’ protest at the Disa River mouth on Hout Bay Beach last Sunday.

Jeremy Westgarth-Taylor of Water Rhapsody Conservation Systems addressing Hout Bay residents on water quality and conservation

Local residents joined forces with various community organizations to protest the rivers’ pollution levels. The Disa River has the highest number of e-coli bacteria (an organism used in scientific testing to determine the level of fecal contamination in a body of water) ever recorded in South Africa.

It contains nine hundred million e-coli bacteria per 100ml water. Normal levels are just two hundred per 100ml.

Jeremy Westgarth-Taylor of the company ‘Water Rhapsody’ informed protestors that other factors affect water quality; in particular, the phosphates used in washing powders that promote blue and green algae growth.

When these algae die, their bodies release a chemical similar to cyanide, a highly potent toxin. Large algae populations flourish on phosphates, and the poisons released upon their death can kill any other life nearby. As grey water (waste water) currently enters the river, this is a concern for the Disa River biosphere and environs.

Mr. Westgarth-Taylor also emphasized the importance of water conservation, stating that it’s currently not cost-effective for government to prioritise the saving of water and that there is much individuals can do to help stem the water crisis in South Africa.

Dr. Justin O’Riain, an associate professor at UCT’s Zoology division and member of the Resident’s Association of Hout Bay (RAHB), had good news to share. The Imizamo-Yethu-based group ‘Sinethemba Civic Association’ is instituting legal action alongside RAHB against the City, to accelerate development in the area.

In 2006 Helen Zille proposed the Spatial Development Framework, which is currently in its sixth phase after residents rejected previous versions. Imizamo Yethu’s planned upgrade is currently low down the list of communities scheduled for re-development and upliftment by local government.

The planned legal action will attempt to get a higher priority for Imizamo Yethu, making the transformation begin earlier rather than later. The plan includes housing and retail outlets, schools and better infrastructure for all residents – including proper sanitation. Dr. O’Riain stated his belief that Imizamo Yethu is already an integral part of Hout Bay society and should be as self-sustaining as possible. Upgrades of this kind could ensure a healthier, better integrated living environment for all of Hout Bay’s residents.

Danielle Klaff of Envirochild, an organization commited to sustainable living in and around Hout Bay, commented that a positive attitude can go a long way in helping the community to solve the Disa River pollution problem.

Taking a spiritual and insightful perspective, she told protestors that a better quality of life results from positive actions taken, for ones’ self and the community; and helped to remind them why they were there: to join together for a common interest, to share information and communicate with each other; and to remember that people are actively seeking solutions to the problem.

The protest ended with a beach clean-up and a performance by a Gugulethu-based marimba band. One enterprise is flourishing as a result of river pollution, however:  sales of Imodium (an anti-diarrhea drug) in Hout Bay are at an all-time high. It is hoped that Hout Bay pharmacies are well-stocked for the upcoming World Cup season.

– Michael Bardouleau
Contact IMBY at or on 0827108862