Mixed views on sea report

Photographer Jean Tresfons aerial photograph that caused a stir last year.

The release of a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) report by the City of Cape Town confirming that sea marine wastewater outfalls pose no significant risk to human health and do not measurably affect inshore water quality or the wider environment, has been criticised by the local ratepayers’ association.

The report was commissioned after various concerns were raised by the public on the health impact for the marine environment and human health of the wastewater outfalls in Green Point, Camps Bay and Hout Bay.

Aerial shots, also appearing to show sewage on the Atlantic seaboard, went viral on social media in 2015.In a statement released at the end of last month, the City said a 24-month long study was commissioned by the City of Cape Town in response to concerns about the impact of the wastewater outfalls on the marine environment and human health.

It has also been reviewed by external scientists.

The City appointed the CSIR in 2015 to undertake a detailed assessment.

The study took place over a 24-month period starting in late 2015 and was completed in mid-2017.

Xanthea Limberg, the City’s mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy, said: “The findings of the study have confirmed the City’s position that the outfalls are not outstripping the assimilative capacity of the ocean.

“It also found that there are no measurable risks to human health posed by the outfalls through either swimming at the beach or consumption of fish caught off our coastlines. In addition, near-shore pollution (when it occurs) is as a result of urban run-off. This is typical of all urban environments.”

Trends in the concentration of metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in the tissue of black mussels and West Coast rock lobsters collected at sites along the Atlantic Seaboard of the Cape Peninsula in 2016 also provided no evidence that mussels or rock lobsters collected inshore of the outfalls had accumulated these chemicals to excessive concentrations in their tissue, the study found.

The City further stated that in addition to testing for the accumulation of synthetic chemicals, the study also looked at whether bacteria from the outfalls was reaching the bathing areas, finding that this was nothing for bathers to worry about. Bacteria dissipated within 300 metres of the diffusers (the outfalls are 1.7km off-shore), which is echoed by the results of their coastal waters monitoring programme, and the continued status of Camps Bay and Clifton as Blue Flag beaches.

Ms Limberg added: “Going forward, the City has developed an extensive monitoring programme with the assistance of four external expert marine scientists. This monitoring programme was submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs and will be implemented as part of our permit to operate the outfalls.”

Chris Willemse, chairperson of the Camps Bay and Clifton Ratepayers’ Association (CBCRA), said they were considering further action following the release of the report.

“We have seen the report and reject it in its entirety. It is deficient, misinformed and in fact dangerous.”

Mr Willemse added that the CBCRA would respond fully soon. “We are in discussions with our partners and various stakeholders.”

He added that certain things hadn’t been taken into account, such as the a new development at Maiden’s Cove and the impact that would have on the outfalls.

Mark Jackson, who directed the Bay of Sewage documentary on behalf of the CBCRA, said the report represented a waste of City funds.

“I believe that report was compromised by not being fully independent – the City supplied much of the
data for it and it was too limited in scope.”

Mr Jackson added: “The City must now concentrate on costing, and then building, proper, odourless, underground treatment and water recycling works, on public land at Maiden’s Cove, Green Point and Hout Bay. The City can no longer ignore their constitutional responsibility to properly treat sewage. And we all have a civic duty to hold them to account on this.”

However, not everyone shared the same views. Justin O’Riain, director of the Institute for Communities and Wildlife at UCT, said the report was comprehensive.

In the Atlantic Sun’s sister paper The Sentinel (“No human health risks” from sea marine outfalls”, Sentinel, November 24), he said: “It provides convincing evidence that despite our sewage being a potentially lethal cocktail of chemicals, heavy metals and bacteria, the effect on organisms living close to the outfall sites is negligible. Hence health risks to people using the inshore region along the Atlantic Seaboard from this source are clearly very low.

“Few would argue that we should aim to pollute neither the ocean nor rivers with waste generating activities and all citizens are encouraged to do so with the products that enter the sewerage system.

“Until we have funding for treatment plants that can return water without synthetic chemicals into rivers or our reticulation system, the current practice seems to be the only affordable way forward that does not severely impact the health of the wildlife.”