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Bulawayo Municipality and industries are discharging 35 million litres of raw sewage and hazardous effluent directly into the Umguza catchment per year, which has been linked to the incidence of serious child diseases and cancers in adults.Companies fingered in a report on pollution of Umguza River and its tributaries are Delta Beverages, Schweppes, Ingwebu Breweries, Colcom, CSC, Treger Kango and United Refineries among others.

According to the 2012 National Census, Bulawayo is home to 654 000 people, but its water and sewer infrastructure — laid 50 years ago — was designed for a population of 350 000. US$13 million is needed to bring the system up to scratch.

Documents in our possession show that out of an estimated 208km of major outfall sewers, 125km require urgent replacement.

Last month, the Government appointed a Cabinet Committee chaired by Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo and comprising five ministries to probe the state of affairs in the Umguza catchment.

The report said the industrial discharge fell in the “Red Class” under Environmental Management Authority disposal limits, with the municipality and companies dumping phosphates, ammonia and nitrates in drinking water.

“Phosphates in wastewater are mainly as a result of detergent use and fertilisers while ammonia and nitrates are due to human liquid waste, fertilisers and industries focusing on abattoirs and tanneries.

“Nitrates maybe reduced by bacteria to nitrite in the intestines of newborn infants and cause the disease methemoglobinemia or cyanosis also called the blue baby syndrome.”

Blue baby syndrome is a heart defect in newborns.

The report continues: “Nitrate also can react with amines in the human body to form N-nitrosamines, carcinogenic chemicals known to induce tumours in laboratory animals and thought to be linked to human cancers. High concentration of these nutrients result in algal bloom in water bodies commonly called eutrophication.

“This results in low oxygen content for the survival of flora and fauna in these water bodies.”

The committee says Bulawayo’s water treatment works were designed to treat 82 megalitres a day.

“The treatment works that are directly linked to the pollution of the Umguza River and its tributaries have a combined treatment capacity of approximately 50,2 mega litres a day and yet they receive approximately 30 percent of their design capacity. The other 70 percent is discharged directly into the river because of the collapsed outfall sewers.

“To exacerbate the problem, certain sectors of industry are discharging industrial effluent without pre-treating to acceptable standards. This effluent is not only corrosive to the sewerage works, but also worsens the already poor quality of the output from the works resulting in pollution of the areas downstream.

“This, then, negatively affects the farmers in that the crops they irrigate are unfit for human consumption and the very health of the farmers themselves and their livestock is negatively affected. Therefore, their livelihood, their health as well as that of the people that purchase the produce from these farmers are at risk.”

Bulawayo City Council has been relying on donors for its water infrastructure, with the Japanese government having provided over US$8,6 million to date.

The council has nearly US$500 000 locked up in Allied Bank but the money is “inaccessible at present due to current liquidity problems in the financial sector”.

The report recommends that boreholes be urgently drilled to provide potable water for domestic use and livestock use, and for Umguza Rural District Council to immediately conduct awareness campaigns on water quality.

Bulawayo City Council has been ordered to weekly inspect and monitor compliance of effluent against standard industry-specific limits and to install and commission calibrated flow meters.

Industries have been compelled to have pre-treatment plants and the council should purchase laboratory equipment – like the Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer – for detection of heavy metals with undesirable health effects.

The report also recommends that a team of experts carry out a detailed study on water quality, determine the impact of the polluted water on agriculture, and human health concerns.

The team should propose remedial action by Thursday.

The experts’ terms of reference include determining the levels of pollutants, sources of pollutants, impacts and consequences and recommending remedial action.

The team comprises engineers and chemists from Bulawayo and Harare city councils the National University of Science and Technology the School of Mines, the ministries of Environment, Agriculture, Local Government, Health, and Industry and the National Social Security Authority.

Source : The Herald