Call for regular cleanups of highly polluted KZN rivers


Willowton Group employee Abu Thallah Jumat (left), housekeeping supervisor, and senior lab technician Anver Essop.

According to Dr Abie Khan, Food Quality and Safety Manager for Willowton Group, there’s a lot more to cleaning up a heavily polluted river than meets the eye.

The process involves removing both waste – such as plastic, paper, cardboard and metal – and exotic vegetation, as well as improving water quality.

Less waste reduces E. coli

According to Dr Khan, the third cleanup of the river by Willowton Group on February 15 – just before the 2022 Dusi Canoe Marathon – revealed that reducing litter in the river itself had actually lowered levels of E. coli, which are a permanent health hazard. .

“We took water samples before the cleaning and samples after the cleaning to see the difference we are making. We will use this to highlight the importance of involving stakeholders and communities along the entire river in this initiative,” Khan said.

Samples taken before and after cleaning revealed that very high levels of E. coli before waste removal fell significantly thereafter, but then started to rise again.

Willowton Group has partnered with Talbot Laboratories in Pietermaritzburg to assess the water quality of Baynespruit.

Micole Martens, managing director of Talbot Laboratories, said samples taken before February 15 were high (648,800) but fell below 100,000 (98,040) six hours after the cleanup. Unfortunately, they started to increase the next day.

This demonstrated that physical cleaning allowed for better flow and ‘cleaned’ the river. The counts started to rise again as the pollution upstream continued.

Things like packets of chips, plastic bottles, and even shopping carts often end up in rivers.

Unfortunately, these things are intentionally thrown into the river. Other times, the wind blows the trash out of the trash cans or landfill. It enters the stream.

Physical pollution can have a devastating impact on the ecosystem, as shown by the high numbers of E. coli before cleaning.

“By carrying out regular litter pick-ups, we can help ease the burden of physical pollution on our rivers and other habitats,” Khan continued.

Composting a possibility

Willowton Group is currently exploring the process of composting vegetation removed from the Baynespruit for use in the Willowton Garden.

Martens pointed out that physical pollutants and bacterial and chemical pollutants that were not visible needed to be removed from the Baynespruit to make it safe for local communities without access to clean water.

“Rivers contain microbial life and pollutants from a range of natural sources,” Martens said.

“For example, cattle are kept near a river. They can defecate directly into the stream. Even without direct access, rainwater can mix with manure and other animal waste before flowing into the river as runoff.

Raw sewage in rivers

Martens added that, during periods of heavy rain such as those experienced in the KZN Midlands this summer, stormwater from sewage treatment plants and storm drains from the sewer system resulted in the discharge of mixed rainwater. to raw sewage in rivers.

“This means that the majority of what is flushed down the toilet or poured down the sink – including non-biodegradable items like wet wipes – ends up polluting the river.

“In theory, rainwater should dilute raw sewage and screens should remove raw solids – however, the existing infrastructure cannot cope with our rapidly growing population, resulting in many discharging more often than they should,” she explained.


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