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Polluted Water a Danger to Food Print E-mail

The Star 12th October 2010 - Angelique Serrao
WATER so polluted that it gets absorbed into our food - making dangerous bacteria a part of our vegetables. This is the scary reality that could soon threaten our food resources if something isn't done to curb the pollution entering our rivers.

These pollutants come from dysfunctional sewerage plants and informal settlements. Anthony Turton, a professor at the University of the Free State's Centre for Environmental Management, said South Africa's water quality was in dire straits. He said studies had shown that 62 percent of the water in dams was no longer fit for any purpose (drinking or irrigation) and that 80 percent of sewerage plants were dysfunctional. Turton said that instead of acknowledging the problem, the government appeared to be intolerant of scientists who talk about "water eutrophication". This, be said, was when water becomes highly enriched with phosphates and sulphates. These minerals encourage the growth of blue/green algae that produce toxins damaging to people's health. He said there were three types of toxins given off by this type of algae: the first attacked the liver, and they had seen animals, such as buffaloes, dying because of it. The second toxin attacked cells and was a leading cause of various cancers. And the third was a neurotoxin which blocked the synapses in the nervous system and could eventually lead to respiratory failure. Turton said new information emerging was that by using this water for irrigation, the toxins pass into plants and finally into people via the food consumed. While most scientists talk about this problem increasing, Turton said the government had dismantled its eutrophication project. Louis Meintjies, chairman of the Transvaal Agricultural Union, believes the situation is so serious that South Africa may not be able to produce its own food in a few years' time. (This programme was aired on 50/50 at 7.30pm on SABC 2 on Monday night)
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