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Excessive effluent overwhelming Cape infrastructure, City in denial for political reasons: researcher

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A senior researcher at the University of the Western Cape Professor Leslie Petrik believes the City of Cape Town is in denial of the state of water contamination in Cape Town for political reasons and warns that the state of pollution in and around the coast is deeply concerning. Professor Leslie Petrik is a “leading and well-established expert in the field of environmental remediation, water treatment and beneficiation of industrial wastes.”

“The first thing to note is that our population has increased tremendously and we haven’t been building new effluent treatments plants, or upgrading existing ones, fast enough… On top of that we’re using very outdated technology in many of these plants and the result is that the effluent that comes out of those plants are of pretty poor quality with a lot of microbes left in it and are very high in nutrients.

Of course, it [the effluent] has got every last contaminant that’s related to the chemical compounds we’re using in the household and the industry because our waste water treatment plants are not designed to take those compounds out…every time you use washing powder or shampoo or even drink coffee, it’s going through the waste water treatment plants.”

“The City is in denial because it’s a political issue…the DA has a profile to keep and they don’t want to admit that they aren’t keeping up with service provision,” said Professor Petrik.

What Petrik is saying, is that our local infrastructure seems inadequate considering the demands placed on it. She insists that the City is once again failing Capetonians in a similar fashion to how it failed locals ahead of the Day Zero drought scare – which many have explained could have been avoided had the City adopted suitable measures, followed advisories and planned ahead.

“We have had a very large influx of people into the city and of course our population keeps growing. That requires that people plan ahead and, just like with the drought, there clearly hasn’t been sufficient planning to take care of the increasing population,” explained Professor Petrik.

The professor says after a study of fish swimming in False Bay was completed, very high levels of chemical compounds were found in them. Results showed that snoek tested contained high levels of diclofenac – a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

She says despite various communications with the City on the issue, their response hasn’t been encouraging.

“My professional integrity has been attacked by the City and our data has been dismissed as alarmist but the fact is that the data shows what it shows and one can’t carry on denying that it is showing that there is a worrying trend of germs and other chemicals going out into our environment,” insisted Professor Petrik.

“The City keeps saying it’s stormwater and that the community must stop throwing junk and other things into the stormwater because when it rains it flushes down into the sea…but when you consider the fact that we haven’t had a heck of a lot of rain…you cant really blame stormwater for the problem all the time.”

“I think the city is trying to downplay the problem because they haven’t managed to catch up with the infrastructure that is needed.”

City’s response

The City of Cape Town maintains, however, that “the effluent discussed is a mix of greywater (water that has been used for washing and cleaning) and effluent disposed of into the stormwater system and streams” and that “the City has been working to roll out chemical toilets and taps, but there are still many informal residents and backyard dwellers who are disposing of greywater and effluent into the stormwater system.”

“Unprecedented numbers of land invasions have taken place in recent years and one of the biggest newly established (unplanned) settlements is New Monwabisi. Thousands of new structures have been built on sand dunes, which means it is not possible to install permanent water and sanitation infrastructure…” reads a statement by the City.

“City staff did everything possible to keep up with the orchestrated land invasions which reached extreme intensity in 2018 but due to capacity constraints were not always able to prevent occupation at various sites across the metro.

The consequences of informal settlements established on unsuitable land are various, and challenges to water and sanitation provision, and associated pollution of waterways, are among them.

The reality is that beaches at which a storm water outlet connects to an informal settlement, especially newly established ones, continually reflect evidence of this kind of pollution.

Samples have been collected for testing and results will be sent from the City’s Scientific Services Department. Signage, warning of potential pollution risk has been erected.”

Professor Petrik remains sceptical about the integrity of the City’s data collection and samples, however.

VOC


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