Kids get sick at the beach
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Sewage leaks in Durban suspected of fouling water off surfing beaches
Several young children fell ill this week after surfing in the sea off Battery Beach on Sunday, only days after other surfers raised the alarm that the water appeared to be contaminated off nearby Snake Park Beach.
It is suspected that sewage seeped into stormwater drains on nearby piers.
The incident has brought the city’s maintenance of sewerage systems under the spotlight.
“There seems to be a very slow turnaround time in how we track what goes into the ocean, how we alert communities and stop people from entering the ocean,” said DA caucus leader for eThekwini Nicole Graham.
City spokesman Msawakhe Mayisela said that after a complaint “about two days ago”, the beach was closed so that water samples could be taken.
“A search was carried out for a leak but no burst pipe could be found.
“It is suspected that it could be human waste coming down from inland with the heavy rains.
“The beach will probably be closed until some day next week. The beach will be open once the city has satisfied itself that it is safe to do so.”
Notice of the closure was marked in chalk on a board to the right of the pathway leading down to the beach that read “Beach temporarily closed due to water testing”.
On the opposite side of the walkway, a notice board that was more legible displayed the results of the last fortnightly test, on August 28. It said the quality was “excellent” as a reflection of the status of the E coli, Enterococcus (a bacteria that can cause infection) and the Beach Litter Index.
Far from excellent was the health of an estimated 20 children who suffered nights of vomiting and missed school days having been in the water on a routine “nippers” surfing session.
“The first indication was when we had to fetch our one child from school on Monday because he was suffering a sore stomach,” said Steve Kotze of Glenwood.
The next two days, both of Kotze’s children were unable to keep food down and experienced “very, very bad vomiting”.
Kotze himself said he felt “queasy“ and had to eat dry toast and Marmite, even though he had not even put his head under the water during a quick swim.
“Dozens of kids were affected,” he added.
Roger Jardine’s two daughters took ill more immediately, suffering serious nausea from 2am on Monday.
Mark Horner’s two children also ended up with gastroenteritis during the first half of the week.
“They weren’t in the water long because it wasn’t the best of days. It was cold,” he said.
Horner said he had surfed near New Pier earlier in the week and thought the water smelt bad.
At much the same time, Sherwood resident and oceanographic scientist Lisa Guastella said she had picked up that the water might be polluted while surfing off Snake Park Beach.
She also noticed raw sewage leaking into King Cetshwayo Highway in her suburb and contacted the media after not having any joy reporting it to a municipal engineering call services number and an email address that bounced back.
On Thursday the Sherwood leak appeared not to be flowing, but there was chevron warning tape around the source area, said Guastella .
It is not yet clear whether the sea off Battery Beach and Snake Park Beach was polluted by the Sherwood sewage finding its way into the stormwater drains, or whether it came from numerous other leaks believed to exist in the city.
It is also not yet clear exactly when Battery Beach was closed. However, the DA’s Graham announced it on social media at lunchtime on Wednesday along with the message: “I personally would avoid North, Country Club and Bay beaches until tests are done.”
Beaches north of the Mgeni River mouth have been closed since the spilling of contaminated water that made its way into the Ohlanga Lagoon after the UPL warehouse containing toxic chemicals was razed during the looting and rioting in July.
Paddlers at Blue Lagoon have also reported falling ill due to sewage and chemicals entering the water as a result of leaks suspected to be at waterworks and from industrial sites.
The Independent on Saturday