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Wednesday Nov 23, 2011

Bruma Lake health horror bodes all ill

Raw sewage, urine and other rubbish floating into Bruma Lake from the Joburg inner city, is likely to have a high content of cholera, salmonella and the hepatitis virus. This is posing a severe health threat to both Joburg residents and those living further downstream along the Jukskei River which eventually flows into Hartbeespoort Dam.

And, the smell, which neighbouring residents and businesses claim is making them ill, is a toxic, flammable gas, listed as an asphixiant.

This has now been independently confirmed in a study undertaken by students in animal, plant and environmental sciences department at the University of the Witwatersrand, under Professor Deanne Drake, an aquatic and ecosystem ecologist.

Its aim was to see whether the "effective micro-organisms" (EMS) injected into the lake by the City of Joburg over the past months, reduced the bacteria. EMS are organisms which act as vacuum cleaners that eat the sludge in the lake. It was found that they, in fact, increased the number of bacteria.

Prior to the EM addition, concentrations of bacteria in Bruma Lake were very high and posed a significant health threat.

The water had a count of one million ecoli bacteria per 100ml, demonstrating a "very high level of faecal pollution," Drake said. The acceptable norm is 1 000 per 100ml.

"Surprisingly, the EM addition in Bruma Lake was immediately followed by a dramatic increase in the concentrations of bacteria," she said. The study found that Bruma Lake is polluted by "what is evidently an enor mous amount of sewage and rubbish".

Catchment management is problematic in that this includes many abandoned and squatter-occupied buildings without proper waste disposal services in the Joburg city centre, said the report.

Of particular public concern is the amount of ecoli, which is a naturally-occurring bacterium in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals, including humans, which enters the lake through faecal material. "If ecoli is present, many other, more dangerous pathogens of faecal origins such as cholera, salmonella and the hepatitis virus are also likely present."

The second major concern surrounding Bruma Lake is its offensive, "rotten-egg" smell.

The study found that "this smell is almost certainly hydrogen sulphide". It is a toxic, flammable gas, and is listed as an asphixiant.

In recent years, a number of approaches have been used to address the Bruma Lake pollution problem, including placement of an upstream litter trap which has collected an average of 73 000 kg of litter annually, and employment of several full-time municipal workers to remove floating algal mats and debris.

Pretoria News

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