NGO meets with government officials to tackle Willowton air pollution

29 December 2002 - This week representatives from Pietermaritzburg NGO groundWork and the Northdale community met with government officials to discuss industrial air pollution problems being experienced by several Pietermaritzburg communities.

The meeting was called by Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork, following several complaints received by the NGO about pollution in the greater Willowton area. The main polluters identified by complainants were PG Bison and Willowton Cake and Oil Mills.

After sending several letters to the City Health Department and making numerous phone calls, groundWork requested this meeting, with the hope that commitments would be made on a plan to reduce pollution emanating from the greater Willowton area.

The meeting was hosted by Mr Hilton Ryder, the Director of City Health, and was also attended by other representatives from the local, provincial and national environmental departments and the Pietermaritzburg Air Quality Forum.

This meeting came a week after local residents sent a petition to Minister Valli Moosa requesting that he intervene to find a solution to reducing pollution in the Pietermaritzburg area. The petition was signed by 293 residents, mostly from the Northdale, Mountain Rise, Eastwood, Allandale and Panaroma Gardens areas, which are the worst affected by the industrial pollution.

There have also been a number of residents’ meetings held recently to discuss the pollution problems being experienced. At a pollution awareness meeting held at the Eddles Sports Club last month, residents expressed their concerns about the state of air quality governance in the southern suburbs of Pietermaritzburg. They said there was a lack of information about complaints logging or feedback to communities by the local municipality on what steps are being taken to address the problem. They also said that it seemed like the childrenand the elderly were more ill more often.

A local GP in the area has also claimed that he has witnessed an increase in respiratory illnesses in the area, which he believes are linked to exposure to industrial pollutants.

“The meeting was a constructive one and several commitments were made by the departmental officials to deal more energetically with polluters in the Pietermaritzburg area,” said Mr Peek. “Some of the steps currently being taken include conducting a full audit of all industries in the Pietermaritzburg area, which will focus on checking of permits, boilers, hazards, records, etc. Also, the Pietermaritzburg Air Quality Forum has purchased a PM10 monitor, which ison PG Bison's premises at present and will be moved around to different factories and communities, in order to monitor thedust levels.”

Nitasha Baijnath, a qualified environmental health officer and a resident of Northdale who was also present at the meeting said that she was encouraged that the residents of Pietermaritzburg were becoming more outspoken about pollution problems. “I drive through the Willowton area everyday to and from work and am frequently appalled at the amount of pollution being emitted from the factories. At nighttime the pollution smells can be quite nauseating. I have also suffered from migraines and respiratory problems since moving to the area.”

Pietermaritzburg residents are urged to report pollution problems intheir areas to city officials in order that they may investigate and deal with the cause of the pollution. During office hours complaints may be made to the City Health Department on 395 1344 and after hours at the Fire Brigade on 395 1364.

Go ahead - make that call!