Picture: Jacques Naude.
Picture: Jacques Naude.

Durban toxic water scare

By Lyse Comins Time of article published Sep 8, 2012

Share this article:

Durban’s sea water has the highest level of some toxic chemicals in the world according to data released by the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research yesterday.

And the DA has once again called for the return of the Blue Flag status after the eThekwini Municipality’s Water and Sanitation beach water testing results from June last year to July this year showed that almost 80 percent of the city’s beach water fell foul of the SA Water Quality Guidelines, with high concentrations of the E coli and Enterococcus bacteria, which can cause cholera and gastro-intestinal illness.

Professor Hideshige Takada of the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, which analysed industrial plastic pellets collected from 200 beaches in 40 countries said that samples from Isipingo beach reflected the highest concentration of hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) in the world. HCH compounds cling to the pellets, making them a reliable indicator of levels of toxicity, Takada said.

“The concentration is the highest in the world and we have to find the source of this compound and if it is being stored we have to remove it to reduce its effect on the environment,” he said.

Concentrations of HCHs in Durban were 61 nanograms per gram, while in Port Elizabeth there were 5ng/g and 3ng/g on the Cape West Coast.

Concentrations of DDT were found to be 3ng/g in South Durban and 48ng/g in Isipingo Beach.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) at Reunion beach were 95ng/g, compared with 61ng/g in Cape Town and 27ng/g in Port Elizabeth.

According to the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease registry, HCH is a toxic compound used as an insecticide on crops and wood and for treating scabies and head lice.

In humans, breathing toxic amounts of the compound can cause blood disorders, dizziness, headaches and changes in the levels of sex hormones and people who have swallowed large amounts have had seizures and others have died.

From Page 1

“Our concern is the HCH in this area, is it from legacy pollution or is it as a result of current emissions? We detected a relatively high concentration of HCH in the air but not as high as in the pellets,” Takada said.

He said he visited Isipingo beach yesterday to draw a sediment sample that would be taken to Tokyo for analysis to answer this question.

Asked whether he was concerned about the findings, the CSIR’s principal scientist in Durban, Brent Newman, said:

“It’s a loaded gun question because it [the findings] are indicative of something, but the air quality results is where our worries start,” Newman said. “My concern is that we measure in micrograms and we are not finding them [HCHs],” Newman said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the media briefing yesterday, DA councillor Geoff Pullen called for the city to reinstate the Blue Flag beach programme.

He said data released by Dr Andre Mather of the city’s engineering unit, who heads up the implementation of the Integrated Coastal Management Act in the city, had shown that most of the city’s beaches had “red” status, indicating poor water quality and high levels of E coli and Enterococcus bacteria.

These included most beaches from Umhloti to Umkhomazi, with the exceptions of Wedge, Ushaka, Vetches and most Umhlanga beaches which were rated amber, or “fair” for E coli. Beaches with “blue” status for Enterococcus representing excellent quality were Casuerina and Umhloti, but both had relatively high concentrations of E coli.


According to Mather, swimming at red status beaches resulted in about a one in eight chance of getting sick, while swimming in an amber status beach this dropped to a one in 20 chance.

“It's not acceptable and this is why the DA has been pushing to have Blue Flag checking up on us just as we have the auditor-general checking our books. This would be a good marketing tool and would show families which beaches have clean water, safe parking, lifeguards on duty and clean toilets,” Pullen said.

Mather said the city had recognised the problem, which was one of 14 key areas being tackled.

“It’s not a secret. We recognise that our water is not the best and we need to put some effort into improving it. We have done some work but our results are still not looking good,” Mather said.

“A big problem is the informal settlements. The other problem is illegal connections where sewage is connected to the storm water drains,” Mather said.

However, head of scientific services at the municipality, Siobhan Jackson, said the results had been the same during the past 16 years and residents needed to accept that the ocean was a natural environment that could not be sterilised like a swimming pool.

“People have to accept responsibility and that nothing is 100 percent safe,” Jackson said. - Independent on Saturday

Share this article: