Durban – Holiday goers might have to cancel their Durban plans after tests done by Talbot showed that a number of beaches were unsafe for the public. Tests done on Point, North, Country Club, Battery, Umhlanga Main and Bronze beaches, show levels of critical E. coli levels, above 500cfu/100ml.
This is about double the recommended level of E. coli that can be present in water for it to be considered safe. While the eThekwini Municipality declared all beaches to be safe, the tests show otherwise. These new tests prove to Dr. Ferrial Adams, Environmental Justice Activist and researcher, that the municipality lied to the public. It also proves that tests need to be done regularly on beaches and not once in a while.
“The one good thing that has come out is that we need to have regular testing and some saying that they’ll test every day. Some beaches will be clean but most of the beaches in KZN are going to have high levels of E coli. People need to know the truth. That’s what all of this debacle has done. It’s made people not trust. I think that you can still have people visiting KZN but there needs to be some awareness raising.”
Adams is not impressed by how politicians have treated this situation. Calling for the mayor to swim in the beach. In her eyes, it has reduced the seriousness of the situation.
Durban beaches have lost the Blue Flag status
Durban has, for the longest time, been able to boast about having the most Blue Flag status beaches but not anymore. While more than 50 beaches will be flying Blue Flags for the next year, Durban will be without a single Blue Flag beach for at least another 12 months and that is very concerning, expressed Adams. It shows how polluted the beaches really are.
“I think that is very concerning if you think about how we’ve gone from Blue Flag to where we are now in a matter of a few years … Over 60% of our wastewater treatment plants in the country are not operating properly. So you have a lot of sewage that’s flowing into our river systems … If we didn’t have activists testing on the ground in Durban, we would have believed the statement that the beaches are all fine and we should go and swim.”
Durban water is fine but people should remain vigilant
Durban beaches have been ruled unsafe to swim in but the water is fine to drink, according to Adams. They have conducted tests on the drinking water which have shown it is safe to drink. This does not mean people can relax and Adams has urged all citizens to remain vigilant and report any sewage spillage they see.
“I also think we need to be vigilant. If we see sewers, manholes etc. overflowing, we need to take photographs and send it to counsellors and they need to act on it in 24 hours. If it is not, we need to alert the media and let people know that this is what’s happening because we cannot have sewage flowing into the canals for days and days. Which is happening around the country.”
With this in mind, Adams and her team at OUTA have created a campaign to test groundwater, rivers, streams and beaches. They have created a small testing kit which can indicate if water is safe to drink or not and will be creating a map in January next year which will show the water quality across the country.
The impact on the fishing industry
Durban piers are famous fishing spots for many people. Whether they are catching fish to sell or just to have at home, many a fisherman can be found there. The high levels of E coli means these fisherman will have to stop if they wish to save their health.
“No one’s actually tested the fish as yet. We’ve been saying that there’s high levels of E coli in the ocean and because the ocean is much bigger, you would think that the fish would swim away or there’d be some dilution. I think that if you look at when you have sewage spills in rivers, eventually you do have fish die off because the oxygen is reduced. I do think that it would be useful. I don’t think that the fish are quite affected right now but it would be good to have someone test the fish from the ocean and from fishing on the piers as well.”
The quality of drinking water across the country
The wastewater treatment plants are in a dire state but Adams admits our water treatment plants are heading in that direction. While we may have clean drinking water now, it might not be too long before the quality of our drinking water deteriorates to unsafe levels.
“Our water quality as well, is that only about 52% are working at optimum level. That is something that needs to be constantly checked. We are at that tipping point where we can go either way in terms of our water quality … I am very concerned about the state of our wastewater treatment plants and our water treatment plants right.”
When rivers, streams and dams are polluted, it increases the cost to clean that water. That cost is then passed on to consumer who pay more for water and it is something that is happening right now. Water utilities are trying their best to keep the water clean but it is sent to municipalities after and problems occur there as well.
For now, citizens should be vigilant and take precautions. If the tap water smells funny or is a different colour, it would be safer to boil it or better, abstain from drinking it at all. Until the beaches are declared clean, it would be a good idea not to take a swim in it.