Cape Town - Emissions from the boiler chimneys of a Hout Bay fish factory have raised the ire of residents who allege the stench poses a health hazard to the community and they are now lobbying for the city to conduct an independent risk assessment.
The call comes after more than 20 years of complaints by locals who say they suffer from headaches, burning eyes and nausea as a result of the odour from the Lucky Star factory - a division of Oceana Brands.
But the City says there is nothing amiss.
More than 1 000 residents have signed a petition under the forum, Fresh Air For Hout Bay, demanding the City of Cape Town urgently address the issue. It is spearheaded by the Hout Bay Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association.
The petition states they want the fish factory, which manufactures tinned fish and fishmeal, to “relocate or cease releasing foul odours and polluted substances”.
Ike Moriz, 42, moved into the town about 10 years ago. When he first got a whiff of the stench he thought it was a “dead rat” in the house. “I went on my hands and knees looking for where the smell was coming from, I even pulled the oven away from the wall. But then I stepped out my front door and it was still there.”
He said the smell was not just that of fish but had a strong “chemical component” which had grown worse in the past two years.
“I have two kids and they sometimes wake up at night crying and complaining of hectic headaches and nausea,” he said. Moriz said the emissions were particularly bad between 7pm and 9pm at night.
He said after requests for a meeting with the factory’s management, the residents met last year August to form a plan of action.
While the company feared they wanted to have it shut down, Moriz said it was not their intention. They did not want to see factory staff lose their jobs, but the smell remained “unacceptable”.
They contacted an infiltration specialist who told them similar fish factories in the UK had emissions with virtually “zero” levels of toxicity.
Moriz also believed the factory affected many people. Hangberg, alone, had a population of about 10 000 people. There were also schools and retirement homes nearby.
Resident Helen Hays, 56,suffers from fibromyalgia, a chronic condition which causes the brain to heighten levels of pain. She said the “stench” often made her even more sick. “A lot of people have said the smell has made them physically ill. I wake up like at 2am because of the smell and feel I want to vomit.”
Despite the city maintaining that the emission levels are acceptable, both Hays and Moriz believed an independent consultant needed to carry out a risk assessment. They said the residents’ association had also submitted comments for the amendments to the city’s air quality management by-law.
The city said the factory had been in the harbour for about 40 years. City mayoral committee member for health Siyabulela Mamkei said most complaints were from residents who had “chosen” to build homes in the Hangberg Heights located directly above the factory as well as new residents who moved into “upmarket” housing developments which had sprung up in recent years.
He said they had already done emissions tests at the plant using an independent specialist. The results concluded that hydrogen sulphide was one of the poisonous components released by the fish factory.
But while high levels of hydrogen sulphide posed a “health risk”, Mamkei said tests had proved Lucky Star’s emissions were below a non-statutory guideline restriction set by the national Department of Environmental Affairs.
“Our own investigations have not revealed any significant shortcomings in the operation of the fish rendering plant by Lucky Star. The city’s Air Quality Management Unit continues to engage with Lucky Star’s management in efforts to improve on odour emission monitoring and control. A review of their emissions licence operating conditions is currently under consideration.
“We conclude that they have been operating within the Atmospheric Emission Licence conditions and that the malodorous nuisances experienced by the residents are due to concentrated odours from the factory being trapped above the bay due to stable weather conditions during the period in which these complaints were received,” said Mamkei.
Meanwhile, a decision has yet to be made about a low-cost housing project which in 2013 was earmarked for a plot of land near the fish factory. It was reported at the time that mayor Patricia de Lille had halted a risk assessment and given the green light for 65 community residential units to be built despite health concerns which were raised by some city officials. Construction has yet to begin.
Mayoral committee member for human settlements Benedicta van Minnen, said the department had prepared a land use application report which would soon be submitted to the Good Hope sub-council for consideration.