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FAILURE by the Harare City Council (HCC) to implement an effective industrial chemical waste management system is exposing its estimated three million residents to a potentially disastrous health situation.

This conclusion was reached by the city’s audit committee, which looked into the state of industrial effluent disposal in the capital since last year.

The investigation discovered that there was insufficient effort to control chemical disposition into the capital’s water bodies, giving rise to fears that a lot of companies could be discharging toxic effluent into the water bodies.

Council by-laws stipulate that all companies, particularly in the manufacturing sector, must devise an environmental management plan, key aspects of which include limitation of chemical disposal.

The latest findings by the city fathers could trigger a sharp response from environment activists and militant resident representative organisations.

The audit committee noted that City of Harare’s department of water was not sampling all companies that were due for industrial effluent assessment and expressed fear that this could lead to the companies relaxing on their environment mandate.

“According to the chief chemist, for the month of March 2014, only 279 out of 5 057 companies were sampled,” reads part of the report which adds that: “Sampling of industrial effluent enables the city chemist to determine the level of toxicity of effluent discharged into the city sewer system.”

The committee also noted that apart from water pollution danger, council also stands to lose a lot of revenue if companies disposing effluent were not assessed.

Companies that discharge more toxic effluent should be levied more.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that the local authority has no capacity to effectively clean the water it pumps to homes and factories.

The odour, greenish hue and particles that settle at the bottom after the water has been put in a container for some time are indicative of chemical contamination which could have long term health effects, even brain damage.

The report quotes an unnamed city chief chemist as attributing the grave scenario to manpower and transport problems.

City of Harare town clerk, Tendai Mahachi, who is a chemist himself, told to committee that even the available workers lacked enough protective clothing which was preventing them from effectively carrying out their duties.

The committee has since ordered director of Harare Water, Christopher Zvobgo, to submit a report on the required staff and vehicles in his division after which they would give city management the green light to fill all vacant positions and approve measure to fully capacitate it.

Harare Residents Trust director, Precious Shumba, expressed concern over the issue saying they would pile pressure on council to quickly rectify the anomaly.

“We fear an epidemic of gigantic proportions and we will fight to ensure that this comes to an end,” Shumba charged.

Combined Harare Residents Association chairman, Simbarashe Moyo, said: “We are concerned that despite all the awareness, factories still escape pollution regulations because of loopholes in the law and weak enforcement. Much is still needs to be done to adequately protect public health and the environment from industrial chemical pollution.”

Because Lake Chivero, Harare’s sole source for potable water, is a heavily-polluted body, HCC is spending more than US$3 million on a cocktail of 12 water treatment chemicals monthly.

One study by the University of Zimbabwe condemned the lake as a “giant sewer”.

The local authority perpetually struggles to raise money to buy chemicals and has been forced to shut down its water pumping plant at Morton Jaffrey Water Works whenever chemicals are in short supply.

Source : Financial Gazette