A water expert says the water shortage that has hit the country has already produced potentially deadly levels of toxins in dams, and it is a result of poor planning by government.
Dr Anthony Turton said the country’s shortage was not simply the result of the current drought, but was also an “induced” one.
In an analysis published in @Liberty, the policy bulletin of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), Turton on Tuesday said the shortage stemmed from a lack of strategic planning, “a loss of skills to ‘transformation’, and the fact poorly functioning waste water treatment plants are spewing close on four billion litres of untreated or partially treated sewage into the country’s dams and rivers every day”.
Turton said the sewage spills were the most serious of the many problems in the water sector. “Just as a small volume of oil destroys the quality of a large volume of water, so a small source of persistent sewage has essentially the same effect.”
He said sewage discharges were also driving the eutrophication – a process of pollution which encourages algae growth – in most major dams. “Eutrophic water is characterised by the presence of high levels of nutrients, which in turn promote the growth of cyanobacteria, commonly known as bluegreen algae.
“One very common species of cyanobacteria produces a potent toxin known as microcystin. This is chemically similar to cobra venom. It is also carcinogenic and damages the liver and central nervous system,” he said.
Turton warned that the microcystin levels found in a number of major dams – including Hartbeespoort, Hazelmere, Midmar and the Vaal Dam – were among the highest ever measured in the world.
“Microcystin toxin levels become a concern in developed countries at far below the levels commonly found in South Africa,” he said.