Critical E. coli levels keep most Durban beaches shut

eThekwini kept 13 beaches open despite warnings of critical levels

19 September 2022 - 12:50
By Suthentira Govender
Most Durban beaches remain closed because of high E.coli levels. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Darren Stewart Most Durban beaches remain closed because of high E.coli levels. File photo.

Despite an independent water treatment company warning that Durban’s beaches contained critical E. coli levels last week, the eThekwini municipality kept them open for three days while it awaited its own test results.

Water treatment service company Talbot, which does regular tests at rivers and beaches, warned last Tuesday that the results showed concerning levels of E. coli.

“Sadly the beach results remain in the thousand counts, being critical for recreational activity. These results continue to trend critical for a number of weeks and are a huge cause for concern. Rivers counts remain high but lower than recent weeks,” Talbot said on its Facebook page.

Last Wednesday the city issued a statement saying 13 beaches, which it opened on the weekend, remained open.

“They will remain open until results from eThekwini’s accredited laboratory indicate a different decision needs to be taken,” it said.

“eThekwini continues to monitor water quality and so far the results from the beaches that are closed indicate they should remain closed in the interests of public safety. This includes Umhlanga Beach, which was affected by a blockage at Macausland pump station. The blockage has been removed but water quality is not at acceptable levels.

“Some of the unease about water quality results can be traced back to inconsistent understanding of how sampling and testing works. For results to be comparable they need to have come from the same sample, given how dynamic sea conditions are. The handling of the sample, its transportation and storage can also affect the result.”

The latest test results posted by water treatment service Talbot last Tuesday
Image: Talbot via Facebook The latest test results posted by water treatment service Talbot last Tuesday

However, on Friday afternoon the municipality issued another statement advising some beaches were closed with immediate effect “due to poor water quality”.

Activists and water experts have blamed Durban’s ongoing environmental and public health woes on the municipality’s ageing hydraulic infrastructure.

Scores of dead fish were discovered at the Isipingo Beach lagoon, south of the city, and Umgeni River, north of the city, in the past month.

Malfunctioning pump stations in and around the city have resulted in high E. coli levels in rivers and the ocean in recent months, prompting the closure of some beaches.

The high levels of the harmful bacteria were attributed to damage to the city’s wastewater treatment plants and sanitation infrastructure caused by the recent floods, resulting in sewage pollution.

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