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Scores of South Durban residents are expected to march against a Clairwood chemical factory that has been blamed for emitting a cat urine-like odour that has plagued residents on the Bluff and in Austerville.
Residents, led by the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance will protest outside Fuel Firing System (FFS) Refiners in Clairwood on Friday where they are expected to hand over a memorandum to city health officials.
This comes as the eThekwini Municipality revealed it would be taking legal action against the company for the odour.
On Tuesday, the eThekwini Health Unit said investigations carried out by officials over an “incident” on Saturday had confirmed that the cat urine smell had come from FFS.
City spokesman Thabo Mofokeng said the health unit had identified particular “waste streams” which had been sent for laboratory testing.
Alison Haycock, FFS environmental manager, said the company had “inadvertently” brought on to the site a load of oil that contained a chemical that had a strong smell from bacterial activity.
“The breakdown product from this is methanethiol, which smells like rotten cabbage,” Haycock said.
The company had sent samples to a variety of experts for analysis. She said they were working with the Department of Health on a range of best practice systems that were to be implemented.
“The exact nature of these will unfold once the various investigations have been completed. The main concern is to develop a screening system to prevent the illegal dumping of any unknown chemicals on FFS that could have health and or nuisance impacts.”
Desmond D’sa of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance said the stench of cat urine had first beenrecorded in October 2010 and ever since had been a nuisance for communities of the Bluff, Austerville and Clairwood.
“This is not an isolated incident. It is time for us to stand against these companies. We have been threatened with legal action by the company but our message to them is that we welcome it. We want them to have their day in court. Our only aim is to see a behavioural change in the way chemical companies treat the communities around them,” D’sa said.
Haycock said the ongoing issue of the cat urine odour had been around most notably from September 2010 to November 2010.
“Various investigations by the Department of Health, FFS, a private investigator and the University of KZN did not lead to the source of this odour.
“We were and still are sure that we were not the cause of the ‘cat wee odour’ during this period,” she said.
Among those who plan to protest outside the factory on Friday are Elaine Ferreira and her sister, Carol Walsh, who both claim to have fallen ill in recent times because of the cat urine smell.
Ferreira said she had lived on the Bluff for 13 years and had always enjoyed good health.
But in the past six months, she had developed severe sinus problems; woke up in the early hours of the morning with nose bleeds; and had developed a terrible skin irritation.
“Sometime I wake up in the early hours of the morning and the smell of cat urine is so intense I have to close all the windows. It is ridiculous,” Ferreira said on Wednesday. “I constantly have an itchy throat, red eyes and these nose bleeds. It seems to be getting worse.”
Walsh said that while she had always suffered with asthma, in the past six months her doctor had increased the dosage of her medicine. She also believes her two-year-old grandson, Wesley Strydom, has been affected by the smell.
“It’s been so bad that we have had to take him (Wesley) out of day care because his immune system is so low. I’ve always lived on the Bluff, but of late, we all seem to be getting sicker,” she said.
After a community meeting on June 12, the environmental alliance has been chronicling people’s stories related to the odour.
According to a health report compiled by the alliance, of the 26 respondent questioned in the survey, 19 said they had experienced negative health effects.
“These health effects included: difficulty breathing, sinus issues, increased asthma issues, headaches, nose bleeds, worsened hay fever, dizziness, chest tightening, skin itching, vertigo, nausea, and flu,” the report stated.
“The most common health effects reported were sinus issues (12 of 19), headaches (10 of 19), nausea (6 of 19), and difficulty breathing (6 of 19).”
In addition the report found that at least 11 schools in the area have had the smell reach their grounds and at least 10 have reported students and staff being affected.
Five schools reported issues with nausea from the smell and eight reported issues with headaches. Six schools specifically mentioned that the staff was being affected by the smell.