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Sewage documentary: blue flag rep objected to City

The City of Cape Town has disputed claims made in a documentary on its sewage disposal processes. However, a South African environmental body and local blue flag operator expressed its concerns to the municipality over a year ago, it has emerged.

In a letter obtained and verified by Memeburn and addressed to the City of Cape Town in July 2015, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) expressed concerns over the city’s practice. The city makes use of three major marine outfall systems to pump sewage into the ocean.

“WESSA is deeply concerned about the continuing impact of the discharge of this effluent, particularly its potential impacts on the CoCT’s Blue Flag status beaches,” the body wrote.

“As the Blue Flag National Operator in South Africa, WESSA is obliged to ensure that the Blue Flag programme has an image of quality and environmental action that is respected and recognised; and that it only confers Blue Flag status to beaches that meet standards of international EXCELLENCE (sic) in water quality (as opposed to only nationally acceptable sea water quality standards),” it elaborated.

The body said it was concerned that the marine environment won’t be able to cope with the increasing volumes of sewage.

“The numerous testimonials of water users in the areas around these outfalls noting smells, floating sewage-related solids/wastes and that of infections resulting from this pollution is cause for alarm.”

In fact, WESSA said that eyewitness accounts of faeces and “other sanitary items” suggested that current filters and devices in sewage systems needed an upgrade.

WESSA said that evidence was mounting that the environment was struggling to cope with the sewage

The body also expressed concern with the variety of chemicals in modern day sewage, citing the effects of synthetic human female hormones in recycled tap water.

“It is clear to WESSA that to simply continue the status quo operation of these three outfalls is to ignore the growing evidence that these systems are no longer adequate, appropriate, that they are very likely to be incuring a growing chemical pollution risk to the nearshore coastal environment and that they place at risk one of Cape Town’s key economic drivers, being beach and marine leisure tourism.”

WESSA called on the city to cap developments that feed into the three major marine outfall systems and to implement new “compact” sewage treatment infrastructure.

“WESSA encourages the City of Cape Town to reconsider its bid to simply continue to discharge inadequately treated sewage from these three outfalls, because it is simply cheap and convenient to do so. The evidence is mounting that the marine system is now struggling to adequately dilute this sewage and that this sewage is more frequently causing a public health menace, which is of growing concern to the citizens of Cape Town.”

Marine photographer hits back at City

One of the people interviewed in the documentary has also taken the municipality to task after it criticised the video.

Marine conservation and environmental photographer Jean Tresfon was interviewed in a documentary called Bay of Sewage, which went viral last month. Tresfon, who is also a gyrocopter pilot, took a series of photos, showing sewage plumes in the ocean surrounding Cape Town.

The documentary, by Mark Jackson, claims that millions of litres of untreated waste water was being dumped into the Camps Bay waters on a daily basis. It added that a similar situation was occurring in Hout Bay and Green Point.

The City of Cape Town responded to the video last week, alleging that “all available evidence contradicts the video’s assertions”. It added that the video didn’t provide “substantive data or measurable science” either.

It specifically claimed that an ongoing CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) study will show that the sewage dumping is “not impacting on Camps Bay in any manner to the extent as suggested by Mr Jean Tresfon in the documentary”.

Now, Tresfon said he felt a response was “warranted” after being “singled out”.

Tresfon said that screening was the only process taking place before the sewage was pumped into the ocean

The photographer accused the municipality of double standards after it claimed that all “available evidence” contradicts the documentary when the CSIR study isn’t available yet.

“They also refer to their monitoring of ‘over 100 sampling points across 300km of coastline for the last 30 years’ but steadfastly refuse to release any results of this sampling to the public, saying that the data could be incorrectly interpreted,” the photographer elaborates.

Tresfon also took issue with the City of Cape Town saying that information made public needs to be “factual, correct and not sensationalised”.

“It’s great to be lectured by the City on what my responsibilities are when communicating with the public, especially since these are the same people that took a position of complete denial when I first raised the issue of the marine outfalls on social media, even going so far as to suggest the plumes must be from a passing ship!”

Tresfon tackled the City’s assertion that major coastal cities use marine outfalls with preliminary treatment to dispose of sewage.

“That’s wonderful to hear but entirely irrelevant since here in Cape Town we seem to know better than the scientific consensus and don’t bother with the preliminary treatment part before pumping our effluent into the sea,” the photographer said, adding that screening, rather than proper treatment, was the only process taking place.

The photographer disputed the City’s claims that a diffusion system makes a big difference, saying it was “like having a sprinkler on the end of a hosepipe”.

Author | Hadlee Simons

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More
  • Ryan Koen

    well thats a stinker