The Daily Dispatch E-Edition

Sewage, plastic contaminate Buffalo River


A section of the Buffalo River, running under the bridge at the entrance to Ginsberg near Qonce, is being choked by plastic — and sewage.

The Dispatch visited the area to find a grey film on the river’s surface. Plastic waste clung on to shrubs and gathered in the river.

A concerned resident, Zingisile Zakhe, said: “This has been going on for about three months and it has not been fixed.

“I have a few concerns about the water because it also goes down to Zwelitsha, and even further to the Laing dam, which is a water supply for many areas.

“I am also concerned that it will be initiation season soon, and some of the initiates who will be near the river when the initiation season starts will use it too — that may cause sickness.”

The river feeds into the Laing, Rooikrantz and Bridle Drift dams before flowing out to sea in East London.

BCM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said officials would investigate the problem.

“We are not aware of any sewage spillage from around Ginsberg into the Buffalo River. However, a maintenance team will be dispatched to investigate.

“Sewage overflows along the streams feeding the Buffalo River pose a risk of contamination of drinking water.

“However, the risk of contamination is balanced by stringent water-quality monitoring at water treatment plants, in line with legislative requirements. Water quality is monitored hourly to ensure that it complies with the national standard, namely, Sans 241.”

Provincial water & sanitation department spokesperson Thandile Ngcume said: “Larger plastic items degrade to microplastic fragments that are typically smaller than 5mm in diameter.

“These may be ingested by various organisms ranging from plankton and fish to birds and even mammals, and accumulate throughout the aquatic food web.

“In addition, plastics contain a multitude of chemical additives and can absorb chemical contaminants from the surroundings.”

The ecosystems of rivers were complex, had plant life forms and supported both aerobic and anaerobic aquatic macro and micro-organisms, Ngwenya said.

Ngcume said: “Rivers like the Buffalo River discharge into the ocean, and as such the river may serve as a conduit for the transport of plastic litter into the sea.

“When it comes to ecosystems in the river, there are different life forms that one can find.”

Zakhe said the relevant administration should be held accountable.

“What I would like to see happen is that BCM must attend to this to avoid a catastrophe that can happen.

“There is waste water getting lost here as well, and manhole covers are gone.

“The municipality must care for its people, especially those living close to rivers in townships and rural areas.”

Untreated sewage can contain disease-causing organisms such as E. coli, hepatitis and cholera as well as harmful chemicals from soap and other household detergents.

Ngcume said: “These can be harmful to individuals or communities that do not have alternative supplies of drinking water.

“They can be used for recreational purposes; and high concentrations of micro-organisms and chemicals can have negative health effects, particularly on those who have weaker immune systems like the elderly, Hiv-positive people and children.

“Other negative effects include chemical elements like nitrates and phosphates causing rapid growth of algae and hyacinth. Then water plants are overcrowded and die.”

Residents have an important role to play in keeping their rivers clean by reporting to the responsible municipality incidents of illegal dumping and any signs of pollution.

“Citizens need to be made aware of the importance of rivers and how they benefit from them.”





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