The stink continues

The Oceana fish processing factory has again come under fire.

There’s been a fresh flurry of complaints about foul odours from Hout Bay’s fish meal factory, according to the activists who have repeatedly taken the company to task.

Fresh Air for Hout Bay (FAHB) says it has been inundated with complaints from residents and tourists since the Oceana factory started up its processing operations again on Friday January 20.

FAHB has repeatedly voiced concern about the odour’s effect on business and possible health implications for the town.

While FAHB’s Kiara Worth acknowledges that Oceana meets emissions guidelines and employs 92 Hangberg residents, she is determined to find a long-term solution to the smell.

FAHB has cited complaints from residents attributing headaches and dizzy spells to the factory’s emissions to bolster its argument that the fishy fumes make people sick.

However, the City of Cape Town says recent analysis shows hydrogen sulphide levels in the air are well below those deemed dangerous by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

FAHB isn’t convinced and is busy gathering data and documentation looking at the impact of the odour on health, well-being and businesses in Hout Bay.

“Oceana’s atmospheric emissions licence comes up for renewal in November this year, and that will require the company to engage in a public participation process. What we aim to do is use this documentation to paint a clear picture for the community on what the true impact of the factory is,” Ms Worth said.

Last year, the factory reverted to pre-2012 production levels which meant production increased from 60 days a year to 180 days a year to make the plant profitable.

In November 2015, Oceana announced its intention to remain open after speculation mounted that operations would be moved to Saldanha.

This was hailed a victory by the Hout Bay Civic Association, which had gathered 1 200 signatures protesting the impending closure due to the effect it would have on employment in the community.

However, Ms Worth said FAHB wasn’t trying to close the factory, it just wanted to clear the air.

“I want to emphasise that no one is wanting to have the factory shut down, but we need to find better solutions and we want the City of Cape Town to assist in this process,” she said.

“I cannot tell you how many emails I have received from residents and tourists complaining about the smell. It is a huge deterrent.”

She said the City should turn the harbour precinct into a place that benefited everyone in Hout Bay.

“I think this issue has often descended into a race and class war, but it really should not have been the case. I understand that Oceana employees 92 people from the Hangberg community, as well as the argument that generations of people from the community have been involved in the fishing industry.

“But this is not about fishing, it is about fish meal processing. Some 800 tons of oily fish are processed for 180 days a year, and 80 percent of that is for the international market. Huge profits are being made by Oceana, so it is really only the company that benefits.

“You always hear that Oceana employs half the population of Hangberg, but it is only 92 people. In reality, that is less than one percent of the population, while the rest of the community is being held hostage by the odour from the factory. If the City was able to transform the harbour area, it would create many more employment opportunities.”

Ms Worth, who is doing her PhD in political science at the University of the Western Cape, believes that with the Hout Bay Tourism Forum seeking to formalise tourism opportunities in Hout Bay, the odour is something that needs urgent attention.

“I have received complaints from tourists that they will not come back to Hout Bay just because of the smell. This has to be considered if tourism in Hout Bay is to succeed.”

Suzette Little, the City’s mayoral committee member for area north, said Lucky Star (Oceana) planned to commission a new chemical scrubber to reduce air pollution.

“A number of other maintenance improvements have been implemented during the closed season to improve fugitive emissions management,” she said.

Ms Little said Oceana’s application to renew its atmospheric emissions licence would need to be published in two local newspapers, and the public would have a chance to comment.

She said an air-quality analyser was positioned 200m from the factory and close to Mr Worth’s home. “The levels of hydrogen sulphide recorded at this analyser at the start of the 2017 fishing season, when complaints were received from the public on February 1, showed that the emissions were way below levels known to cause health risks.

“At 1am, on February 1, when one of the complainants alleged he was disturbed, the reading was 1.5 micrograms; at 2am it was 1.7 micrograms; and at 3am it was 0.9 micrograms.

“The maximum hourly average recorded overnight was 13 micrograms. According to the World Health Organisation, health risks for hydrogen sulphide occur at 125 micrograms.”

Oceana spokeswoman Pamela Manda had not responded to our questions by the time this edition went to print.