Pietermaritzburg residents say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

18 September 2006 - On Wednesday, 20 September, groundWork is hosting a public meeting at Thembalethu Community Education Centre at 206 Burger Street, at 17:30 hrs to call on Pietermaritzburg residents to mobilize and take action against industrial pollution in Pietermaritzburg.

During this past year, and particularly this winter, groundWork has received numerous calls from residents in Pietermaritzburg who have requested that groundWork take action against the ongoing pollution in the area and government’s inability to deal affectively with the perpetrators causing this pollution.

groundWork has taken air samples throughout the city over the last few years to assist the city officials to get a better understanding of the air pollution problems and the evidence has pointed to the fact that people in Pietermaritzburg are exposed to an unacceptable levels of pollution which is impacting upon their health. Chemicals found in the air sampling to date have been Benzene, Toloene, m,p-Xylene, Chlorobenzene, Chloroethane, and Chloromethane, hydrogen sulphide, Ethyl Benzene, Methyl Ethyl Ketone, Tetrachloroethane, and Styrene. Some of these chemicals were elevated above health threshold levels and international standards. These results were not acted upon.

The historical reality is that Pietermaritzburg has had a pollution problem which neither the City or District, nor the Air Quality Forum have alleviated in any meaningful way.

Trish Collocott, a resident challenging air pollution for many years, says that “there is an oil refinery smell that has an offensive and physical odour. Since last year, there is now also a new ammonia (like cat urine) smell which is experienced in different parts of the City depending on the direction of the wind”. Trish states that “It’s high time that PMB residents put their foot down and refuse to put up with any more of this pollution.

Over the years, residents in Pietermaritzburg have made numerous complaints to the City, yet the political will to invest in abating the pollution problem does not exist. Sandile Ndawonde, of Greater Edendale Environmental Network (GREEN): “Pollution does cause ill health, and we know where the pollution is coming from it does not take a scientist to figure this out.”

It is particularly during the winter months that the ‘City of Choice’ becomes a bowl of chemical soup where people are forced to close their windows and stay indoors as the City’s industries choose to belch out their sulphur and other toxic chemicals into the lungs of the community, totally unrestrained and unabated. Hard luck if you have to get to work or take kids to school that morning, after all the officials have no enforcement authority and it appears that industries have carte blanche to operate as they please - after all no one has even seen their operating permits [1].

Investigations in south Durban and the Vaal Triangle have presented clear evidence that the industrial pollution in these areas is having a significant impact on peoples’ health, especially children. In South Durban the cancer risk is 250 times the accepted norm [2] and 52% of local learners have some form of asthma [3]. In the Vaal Triangle industrial emissions are responsible for 65% of the chronic bronchitis [4].

According to Siziwe Khanyile, groundWork’s Air Quality Campaigner, “The health of our children is our priority, and we urge school staff to attend the meeting, to join families, residents and other civil society organizations to develop plans to challenge the political leadership to respond to our call for an environment that is not harmful to our health and well-being.”

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[1] groundWork have requested the permit for FFS Refinery and local government has not got a copy of the permit. The Chief Air Pollution Officer has refused to give the local authority the permit.

[2] This was the conclusion of a health risk assessment that was undertaken by the University of Michigan (USA) in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Medical School, which was commissioned by the eThekwini Municipality.

[3] The Settlers Primary School Health Study, November 2002

[4] Sourgie, Y. (2004) “Air Quality Situation Assessment for the Vaal Triangle Region.”