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Sandvlei battling toxic water issue

In its service charter the City of Cape Town’s Water and Sanitation Department promises to take reasonable care in operating the sewer system to avoid odours and unhygienic conditions.

However, for years residents in Sandvlei have been battling the City to make good on this basic, legally binding service.

The houses in the area are situated next to the Kuils River, but waste water which is being pumped from the Zandvliet Waste Water Treatment facility flows into the river before it passes through the residential and farming areas.

Many inhabitants of the area claim it is this waste water that has caused many of their ailments, and numerous professionals have been called in to test the water quality and have been approached by the City of Cape Town to have the dumping stopped.

To date very little has been done to alleviate the problem or to solve it altogether.

“We sent water samples to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Stellenbosch and the lady actually told me take my family and get out of this area,” said Maryam Salie, Sandvlei United Community Organisation (SUCO) deputy chairperson.

Bettina Genthe, senior researcher at CSIR, says besides irregularly high E.coli counts in the water, the toxin microcystin is also unnaturally high in the water.

This, she says, causes illness through inhalation and not necessarily through direct contact.

Health issues that can arise from this include abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea, liver inflammation and haemorrhage, acute pneumonia, acute dermatitis, kidney damage and potential tumour growth promotion.

Salie has often said that most members of the Sandvlei community have major health issues, and she herself has also visited her doctor several times for reasons related to what her doctor believes to be toxins in the air.

Genthe had a meeting with representatives from the various water departments of the City on Monday which she said went surprisingly well.

In a letter to the City she expressed her concern for the well-being of the residents and the health risk the water posed.

“I was quite surprised at how receptive they were, in terms of what can be done to alleviate or solve this problem,” Genthe said. “They are open to possible ways forward. This is not an easy thing to achieve but it is doable.”

She added that her goal, along with the City’s, is to make things better, especially regarding the contaminated water running through Sandvlei.

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