In 2013, when I was in Grade 9 of High School one of the major assignments of the year was to conduct a Science Expo research project. From beach walks and swims with my family, especially at Clifton Beach (Cape Town), I saw worrying signs of pollution such as yellow foam in the water, nearby sewage outlets and dead animals on the beach. Thus, I decided to conduct my Science Expo research project on the topic of sewage pollution by measuring the amount of E.coli in the water. This unearthed the first results of the Cape Town waste water problem.
After the completion of my school research project my Mom, as a public health specialist, decided to take this further. She was worried by the effect that such pollution might have, not only on the environment and animals, but also on public health. Thus, a crowd founding research project was started.
In the months and years to come this became a major and regular topic appearing in the news, on TV, in newspapers and on radio both in Cape Town and internationally. Unfortunately, it is a problem that is still relevant today and depending on wind, tide, and weather conditions bathers in Cape Town are at risk from sewage pollution and the adverse health effects associated with it. More awareness and public pressure is needed to change this situation, improve water quality, protect our health and our beautiful surroundings.
Below please find some selected results from the research study my Mom (Prof. Dr. Weimann) conducted:
|One of the sewage outfalls
|Photos by Jean Tresfon|
“If beaches and water are polluted by wastewater, bathers are at risk for thalassogenic (wastewater born) diseases such as diarrhea, skin infection, respiratory tract infection and hepatitis. The coastal water around the Cape Peninsula in South Africa is affected by polluted rivers that flow into the ocean, major shipping routes and wastewater outlets from human settlements. With high tide the water from offshore is brought onto the beach area and towards the coastline.
Results: Sea water was collected from the eco-labeled Blue Flag beach, Clifton, Cape Town, during peak season in February and March 2013 at high tide to culture E. coli. The tested water quality was between 104 and 106, indicating that Clifton Blue Flag beach is affected by waste water. Foam and yellowish coloring of sand was associated with elevated E. coli counts. Data of water analysis are only displayed at Blue Flag beaches with a delay of two to three weeks.”
“Conclusions: Swimming on a Blue Flag beach does not exclude time limited waste water pollution. Regular external and independent quality surveillance of Blue Flag beaches is mandatory, besides more rapid measurement and timely display of water analysis. Especially infants and people with HIV and/or Tb infections are at risk for health hazards as they are immune compromised. Swimmers should be aware of the risk they are taking when bathing in polluted water and know the signs of waste water pollution.
In addition we investigated possible health risks due to sewage pollution so called thalassogenic (water-borne) diseases. People reported side effects that could be related to sewage pollution on various beaches around the peninsula. People from various age groups participated: (toddlers & children (40 %), adults (50 %), elderly people (10%)) and with different duration of water exposure (short swim (40%), surfing (25%), open water swimming more than 500 m (20%), playing in the sand (10%), kayaking (5%)). Reports were from water users on various beaches (Camps Bay, Clifton 4th beach, Bakoven, Big bay, Hout Bay, Strand, Oudekraal, Sea Point, Big Bay, Muizenberg, Glen Beach). 60% males and 40% females participated in the questionnaire.
Besides, swimmers use the shores for long term swimming (e.g. torpedo swim). This poses a further risk as the swimmers are closer to the marine outfalls and are prone to swallow contaminated water.
Most of the reports were of skin rash, itchy skin, ear infection, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.. One person described having feces in the mouth with later diarrhea, while others even suffered severe dehydration from vomiting and needed to be hospitalized. Some got severe stomach cramps and lots of vomiting. Only 40% reported the symptoms to a medical practitioner.
Disappointingly however, the issue keeps being ignored and pushed away even through drought and climate change disasters urge for sewage treatment plants, water recycling, increased awareness and safety measures.”
– Prof. Dr. Edda Weimann
If you want to help solve and address this issue follow the @waterwatchsa community on Facebook. Volunteer, speak up, donate and raise awareness. Our oceans here in Cape Town are something we should be proud of and swimming in sewage and other chemical pollution is destroying our eco-system, killing marine life and affecting our health.