A housing crisis in Hangberg has opened up a big can of pilchards, which could have major implications for the health of Hout Bay residents, and the City of Cape Town has refused to make the report public saying it is too complicated for public consumption.
Like the cliffhanger-ending in the soapie with the same name as the land they had hoped to live on, Hangberg residents have been told by the City that the planned low-rental housing scheme in Dallas has been canned after a health-risk study found the fumes from the Oceana fishmeal factory could be harmful.
The Sentinel Primary School is just a block away from the site which the City says is not suitable for residential development (“Stench halts housing,” Sentinel August 26).
The Sentinel asked mayoral committee member for health Siyabulela Mamkeli for a copy of the report, but he refused, saying it was highly technical and not suitable for general public consumption.
The Hangberg residents, who are on the waiting list for permanent housing, say the smell from the fishmeal factory is harmless, but the City is adamant that Dallas, Erf 8474, is not suitable for residential development.
At a public meeting on Monday August 29, at the site which is now being barricaded by palisade fencing, residents told ward councillor Rob Quintas they wanted answers from the City and refused to accept the explanation that emissions from the plant are toxic.
They presented Mr Quintas with a petition, calling on the City to go ahead with the housing project as planned.
Mr Mamkeli said a well-respected, independent, environmental toxicologist, supported by an independent air quality specialist, had done the study, comprising air quality dispersion modelling as well as noise and odour impact assessments. The study also inventoried emissions for the area.
“The study identified the typical odorous compounds and air pollutants emitted in the area and included various emission estimation scenarios based on the Atmospheric Emission Licence (AEL) issued to Oceana,” he said.
The study also used historical meteorological data from the South African Weather Services and emissions monitoring reports provided by Oceana.
Mr Mamkeli said the provincial government’s ambient air quality monitoring station at Sentinel Primary School only measured hydrogen sulphide, a gas typically emitted by fishmeal factories, and not a range of pollutants typically emitted from industrial processes. The dispersion patterns of these pollutants had needed to be gauged.
Mr Mamkeli said after getting the report, the City had started reviewing Lucky Star’s emission licence, to regulate the Oceana holding company’s operating conditions and reduce any air pollution risk to Hangberg residents.
He said,Lucky Star had committed to only use low-sulphur fuel in their boilers, even though their AEL permits the use of heavy fuel oil – the main source of the pollutant of concern. “The sole use of low-sulphur fuel will significantly mitigate the sulphur concentrations in close proximity to the plant,” said Mr Mamkeli.
Oceana declined to comment. However the revelation that the fumes from its plant are toxic to humans has alarmed residents who have long complained about the stench from the factory. These complaints have been met by repeated assurances over the years from both the City and Oceana that the emissions are not harmful.
Founder of Fresh Air for Hout Bay (FAHB), Kiara Worth said she was very concerned to hear that the emissions from the Oceana fishmeal factory could be harmful to people’s health and that the housing issues in Hangberg are still ongoing.
“Up until this point, the City and Oceana have denied any health implications associated with the emissions and if these reports are true, they will have a lot to answer to.
“There are also broader implications – if the land in Dallas is considered unfit for human health, what does that mean for the land around it – all the homes, businesses and schools in the neighbouring areas?
“It seems that the people of Hangberg have again been forced into a terrible position – to either have no roof over their heads, or live in a place that could be harmful to their health.
“There are some very real issues in our community and the City will need to act wisely to address them,” she said.
Mr Mamkeli said it is unlikely surrounding areas will be affected as the study had found that in “worst case scenarios” the pollutants were localised to Erf 8474. But then he also conceded that study hadn’t made any predictions about the impact of the pollutants on the broader community.
The air pollution findings have been a tough blow for Hangberg residents desperate for housing. And it was clear from the reaction of the Hangberg petitioners at Monday’s meeting that they didn’t want to accept the City’s explanation for the delay in the housing project. Navadly Koopman, who drew up the petition, said residents were angry and frustrated and just wanted what had been promised to them.
“We don’t know what is happening with the housing issue and blaming the factory is not an answer. Everyone here has lived in Hangberg their entire lives, and no one has ever become sick from the factory,” she said.
Abdullah Aziz Koopman said he was a homeowner but was living in his front yard to allow his children and grandchildren – who are waiting for housing at Dallas – to stay in his home.
“I have lived in Hangberg for 50 years, and in that time the factory has not made anyone sick,” he said, shaking his head. “They should stop looking for excuses and go ahead with the building.”