/ 31 January 2008

Report highlights safety threat to Durban rivers

Several Durban rivers are polluted with health-threatening levels of E. coli bacteria, sometimes at levels hundreds of times over the recommended safety limits for drinking, washing, swimming or canoeing, the Mercury reported on Thursday.

The eThekwini municipality has been singled out as one of the ”most significant” polluters of some rivers because of the failure to repair burst sewer lines and poor management at some waste-water treatment plants.

These are the some of the findings of the latest river monitoring project conducted by Pietermaritzburg-based river scientist Mark Graham, on behalf of the municipality.

His report describes some of the worst affected rivers as little more than ”open sewers”.

Apart from the real possibility of gastro-intestinal sicknesses such as ”Dusi-guts”, his report also points to the potential for spreading more serious waterborne diseases — including hepatitis, typhoid and dysentery.

In the lower reaches of the Mbokodweni River, south of Durban, there were reports of children developing welts or sores on their skin from playing in the highly polluted water.

Where the Mlazi River flows into the concrete Umlaas Canal section, he found ”geysers” of raw sewage bubbling up from the bottom of test samples, which showed readings of 280 000 counts of E.coli/100ml of water during his latest 2007 survey.

Graham reported similar high readings of E. coli to authorities during the 2006 survey, but it appeared that ”little had been done” to fix the problem.

Graham’s report follows disclosures published in the Mercury on Wednesday focusing on at least one significant leak from a broken sewer line at the Umhlatuzana River, and reports that organisers of the Dusi Canoe Marathon were considering calling off future events if E. coli levels were found to be too high. Many paddlers have come down with tummy bugs since the recent marathon.

Neil Macleod, head of water and sanitation at eThekwini, said he would need to study each incident in Graham’s report in full, but noted that sewer blockages frequently happened in the same places because the sewer system was treated as a convenient rubbish disposal system by some. — Sapa