Thursday 07 June 2012 - High levels of benzene in recent Baynespruit river contamination

Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 5 June 2012 – While the sewer pipeline near the Eastwood suburb has been repaired by the Msunduzi municipality, results from samples taken from the Baynespruit River show high levels of benzene.

 Over two weeks ago, groundWork [1] staff visited the site after a concerned member of public alerted the organisation to a white, oily liquid pouring out of the pipeline into the river. Upon speaking to the municipality, it was clear that little had been done to correct the situation, which had been ongoing for a number of months. groundWork went to The Witness newspaper with the story, which was then published front page on 17 May 2012.

 groundWork's Waste Campaign Manager, Musa Chamane, expresses his concern: "It is a shame and negligence by our municipality having to let such dangerous chemicals spill into the stream for months. When I visited the site, I smelt benzene, and I felt nauseous and dizzy when I was taking samples. I really got worried".

A sample of the industrial effluent was sent by groundWork to the Talbot and Talbot Laboratory in Pietermaritzburg, the results of which showed dangerously high levels of benzene.  Benzene is used in various industrial activities, such as the production of resin, a type of glue that is created by some industries found near to the Baynespruit River. Industries like the glue manufacturer, Dystar-Boehme, are permitted to discharge certain amounts of effluent into the pipeline, which the municipality is tasked with maintaining.

The health impacts of benzene are numerous, ranging from drowsiness and even unconsciousness from inhalation, to anemia. Even more concerning, a study [2] by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that long-term exposure to benzene is carcinogenic to humans. In particular, it is known to cause acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood forming organs

groundWork's Environmental Health Scientist and Campaigner, Rico Euripidou, explains that: "The presence of benzene in this water samples indicates industrial pollution. Anecdotal evidence suggests this contamination has been ongoing over the last year which is indicative of poor regulation and oversight by the Msunduzi regulatory authorities".

 CONTACTS

groundWork staff:

 Rico Euripidou, Environ or rico@groundwork.org.za

 Musa Chamane, Waste Campaign Manager at 033 342 5662 or musa@groundwork.org.za

 Megan Lewis, Media Campaign Manager at 083 450 5662  megan@groundwork.org.za

 Footnotes

 [1] groundWork is an environmental justice organization working with community people from around South Africa and increasingly in Southern Africa on environmental justice and human rights issue focusing on Air Pollution, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is a member of Friends of the Earth International.

 [2] Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tf.asp?id=38&tid=14

Friday, 01 June 2012 - World Bank agrees: MEDUPI poses social and environmental risk
groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa
Earthlife Africa Johannesburg

Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg, South Africa, 1 June 2012 – The World Bank Board has agreed that the development of the Medupi Power Station entails substantial environmental and social risks that have to be considered.  This was in response to the Inspection Panel's 2010 investigation called for by local residents and supported by Earthlife Africa (Jhb) [1] and groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa [2].  This is a vindication of local people's concerns about the ongoing challengers with the development of Eskom's coal fired power station.

It was accepted by the Board that the South African governance systems – supposedly acting as a safeguard to protect peoples' environment and health - did not fully meet and comply with the Bank's policy.  This is specifically related to non-compliance and inconsistency in the following areas:
"(a) assessment of equivalence and acceptability, in particular on issues relating to assessment of cumulative impacts, independent expert oversight and capacity constraints; (b) impacts on air quality and health; (c) impacts on water resources; (d) impacts on public infrastructure and services, and (e) inadequate consideration and economic analysis of alternatives and risks, particularly with regard to water and air externalities."

Of concern however, is the fact that the Bank does not see it critical to call for immediate action when evidence of damage is already visible, but rather depends on future monitoring of the situation, such as air emissions and water transfer proposals. 

Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork: "Having visited the area in May, and witnessed for myself the sand erosion along the Mokolo River, it is clear that there is already damage to the environment which is impacting on people's livelihoods. Thus delaying action and waiting for monitoring which will result in irreversible damage."

Illegal sand mining along the river is taking place, and as recent as September 2011, in a meeting discussing a basic environmental assessment and National Environmental Management Act Section 24 G application, it is widely discussed.  Ms Malungani, of the Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET) indicated in the meeting that: "The only thing that makes this thing (illegal sand mining) to be in the spotlight is the applicant's link with the construction of the Medupi Power Station."

The Bank's support of the project and the development of Medupi have opened the area up to become another Vaal Triangle, Highveld and south Durban.  Despite this reality, the Bank recognises that there are no provisions in South Africa law – or its own policies – that would require Eskom to manage the impacts created by its suppliers, particularly sand mining.

Makoma Lekalakala of Earthlife Africa (Jhb) warns that: "This loan and Medupi is the final wedge that is going to result in this place being the next sacrifice zone for elite development in South Africa.  If the existing Matimba Power Station is not providing regular electrification to the neighbouring community of Maropong, the added power of Medupi is not going to power homes but rather will power the expansion of the dirty industry in the area". 

Resource Generation SA, a subsidiary of Resource Generation Australia has already been granted permission to mine coal on farms near the Limpopo River, Sasol has a plan to build a coal to liquid plant near Medupi and the CIC Energy's Mmamabula Energy Project in neighbouring Botswana will result in another coal mine and 1200 megawatt power station used to power South Africa.

groundWork and Earthlife Africa (Jhb) will be visiting the area in June to meet with local people to discuss a plan of action for the way forward.

CONTACTS

Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork at 033 342 5662 / 082 464 1383 or bobby@groundwork.org.za

Siziwe Khanyile, Air Quality and Climate Justice and Energy Campaign Manager of groundWork at 033 342 5662 / 073 830 8173 or siziwe@groundwork.org.za

Makoma Lekalakala, Programme Officer of Earthlife Africa (Jhb) at 011 339 3662 / 082 682 9177 or makoma@earthlife.org.za

Tristen Taylor, Project Coordinator of Earthlife Africa (Jhb) at 011 339 3662 / 084 250 2434 or tristen@earthlife.org.za

Footnotes

[1] groundWork is an environmental justice organization working with community people from around South Africa and increasingly in Southern Africa on environmental justice and human rights issue focusing on Air Pollution, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is a member of Friends of the Earth International.

[2] Earthlife Africa Johannesburg seeks a better life for all people without exploiting other people or degrading their environment. We want to encourage and support individuals, businesses and industries to reduce pollution, minimise waste and protect our natural resources.