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Why the flows of sewage into Cape seas need more safety screenings

22 June 2015 8:06 AM
Marine outfall pipes that pump sewage into Cape Town seas have created growing health concerns for residents and researchers.

The rising controversy surrounding three marine outfall pipes in Cape Town has prompted discussions on whether or not the current sewage disposal practices in the City deserve reconsideration.

A plume off the Hout Bay coast claimed to eminate from the local sewage outfall pipe. Image credit: Marine conservation photographer Jean Tresfon.

Reports have surfaced from surfers, kayakers and others who often encounter the effluent not far from Cape Town beaches, raising concern about the environmental exposure to a whole host of bacteria and viruses.

Following an Eyewitness News investigation into the coastal sewage debacle, CapeTalk host Kineo Kammies spoke with two analyst who agreed that significant revision is needed in the guidelines for sewage treatment and disposal, to limit the increasing health risks of the outfall plumes.

Sewage disposal systems not on par

Dr. Jo Barnes, senior lecturer in the Department of Community Health at Stellenbosch University says the City has not been not been treating the affluent, but rather screening it for major solids.

According to Barnes major environmental factors have emerged in the last decade that have not been considered in the current sewage disposal procedures and guidelines.

Requirements that the City has allegedly not met include having the effluent discharged two to four kilometers away from the coast and at a depth of 60 to 80 metres, according to Barnes.

She says that the City is dispersing effluent by means of outfall pipes, without any alternative maeasures, should the sewage contaminate the Cape’s waters; and is concerned that the Department of Environmental Affairs has not disclosed how the sewage is screened.

We are not informed about their emergency procedures or exactly how they test the effluent.

Dr. Jo Barnes, senior lecturer in the Department of Community Health at Stellenbosch University

Watch: EWN investigates the current thinking on sewage systems

Dr. Brent Newman, principal researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) says that the guidelines are being revised but that the marine outfall and dispersion models can only minimise environmental and health risks, but will never fully eliminate them.

We don’t typically measure all the chemicals in the effluent that is discharged in South Africa. We do screens looking for specifics types of chemicals. We look for markers and can’t measure every chemical that is going out.

Dr. Brent Newman, principal researcher at CSIR

Listen to the full conversation on CapeTalk's Breakfast with Kieno Kammies:


22 June 2015 8:06 AM