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Cape Town - A low-cost housing project planned near a Hout Bay fish factory looks set to go ahead despite health concerns, after mayor Patricia de Lille stopped officials from doing a risk assessment.
The factory, which produces tinned fish and fishmeal for Oceana Brands, is opposite two sites earmarked by the City of Cape Town for community residential units. The 65 low-cost flats will be directly opposite the factory and in line with its boilers,
But city health officials have warned that it is not clear if there are any health hazards associated with the factory emissions, and there could be long-term implications if the development goes ahead.
A land use application for the project was to have been considered by the Good Hope subcouncil, but councillors agreed that given the concerns raised by the city’s health officials, it should be deferred to the mayoral committee for determination.
Councillor Dave Bryant said that if there was a health risk, these emissions could pose a problem for other developments in the area, including the Hout Bay market. “This could be a bigger matter than just this development.”
Paul Heydenrych, project manager for the council’s new settlements, said: “I tried to get an air study done but my authority to do so was cancelled. I was told by the mayor not to continue with the study. So I have proceeded with the land use application. We have to proceed without the study.”
Hydrogen sulphide is one of the poisonous substances released from fish factories. Exposure can cause headaches, irritation of the nasal passages and other problems.
De Lille’s spokesman, Solly Malatsi, said in response: “The mayor’s only intervention was to ensure that a critical housing project in Hangberg was not delayed. People have been living in this area for many years without complaint.”
But correspondence relating to the development shows that the health issue has been raised before. The Hout Bay Civic Association noted in 2012 that “the close proximity to the fishmeal factory and other emissions needs to be engaged to the public and the community”.
Environmental law specialists Smith Ndlovu Summer, acting for Oceana, said in their response to application that because of the close proximity between the factory and the potential residents “the impact on the residents should be considered in the application process”.
They said Oceana wanted to draw attention to the nature of the industry, so that tenants understood the situation in advance “and will not in future raise concerns about atmospheric emissions and odours emanating from the fishmeal processing facility”.
Councillor Marga Haywood said that while she did not want to approve anything that could pose a health risk, she also did not want to delay in an area where people didn’t have homes. It was not for councillors to decide on whether the emissions posed a health risk or were merely a nuisance.
Subcouncil chairman Taki Amira said the matter would now be dealt with by the mayoral committee.