Funeral parlours could be adding to contamination of the Vaal River

25 September 2018 - 13:37 By Naledi Shange
In an e-mail sent to government authorities last year‚ Funeral Industry Reformed Association chair Johan Rousseau warned about the danger posed to the water system by mortuaries
In an e-mail sent to government authorities last year‚ Funeral Industry Reformed Association chair Johan Rousseau warned about the danger posed to the water system by mortuaries
Image: inus12345 / 123RF Stock Photo

Water used to wash corpses by mortuaries and funeral parlours could be worsening the contamination of the Vaal River‚ the Funeral Industry Reformed Association (Fira) warned on Tuesday.

"It's a well-known fact that highly infected blood and life-threatening chemicals enter our natural resources and the cause thereof is that both public and private morgues don't have their sewerage contained and by allowing that‚ it enters the natural water systems by bypassing municipal water systems‚" said Fira chair Johan Rousseau.

He said while the Health Act called for funeral parlours to operate in industrially zoned areas‚ it did not give proper guidelines about zoning for residential areas.

“The challenge is that in the residential areas‚ the water from the funeral parlours could get into the municipalities drinking water systems. This water from the parlours could contain blood and other body fluids which contain diseases so that is why a separate sewerage system is needed for funeral parlours.

"As things stand‚ we do not have effective legislation for this. There is just no proper zoning law in place … What municipalities do is simply agree with the funeral parlour owners [to operate their businesses] without proper guidance‚” Rousseau added.

He said some funeral parlour owners unknowingly endangered the lives of people because of a lack of training and knowledge about the industry.

Without a centralised body to deal with the funeral parlour industry some of its matters were handled by the environmental department‚ others by the health department‚ others by home affairs and some by the labour department.

“There is no single department that takes accountability. The constitution says it should be Cogta [co-operative governance and traditional affairs department] but they do not have laws in place for this‚" Rousseau said.

He was speaking to TimesLIVE as the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Tuesday held an inquiry into whether the current status of the river violated human rights after allegations that raw sewage spilled into it.

Rousseau‚ who has almost three decades of experience in the funeral industry‚ said that the likelihood of morgues polluting the water system was a "disaster in the making".

He also added that they had approached several government departments to seek solutions. They were invited by the South African Local Government Association to present their concerns at a conference but according to Rousseau‚ but there have been no further developments.

In an e-mail sent to government authorities last year‚ he warned about the danger posed to the water system by mortuaries.

Fira was not making any presentations at the three-day inquiry by the SAHRC into the river but Rousseau said they would appreciate an opportunity to do so.

Parliament’s portfolio committee on water and sanitation said last month that it was “convinced that the lack of investment in maintenance of the sewage infrastructure” by the Sedibeng District and Emfuleni municipalities had led to the crumbling infrastructure and contamination of the Vaal River system.

Times Select reported earlier that an unprecedented ecological disaster was unfolding in large stretches of the river‚ a key source of water for some of the country’s best farmland.

The disaster is unfolding in the midst of the ambitious R1-billion Sedibeng Regional Sewer Scheme‚ announced in 2015 by the then water and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane.

It is a rule of the Cogta's Back to Basics programme that municipalities spend 10% of their budgets on maintenance.

“While the committee supports the building of new units‚ it has emphasised that the old units must be maintained to ensure optimal utilisation of the entire plant.”

Committee chairperson Mlungisi Johnson added: “The other social and economic impact the municipality faces as a result of the delay is that due to the spillage into the river system‚ the amount of money it spends on purifying the water increases astronomically‚ which affects the municipal finances negatively.”

The committee expressed concern about municipalities using old infrastructure despite increasing populations and development placing greater demand on the systems and not recycling water.

Johnson added: “Currently municipalities treat water and release it into the river system. With a limited investment‚ a small plant can be installed at waste water plants that will ensure that the water is redirected back into the system.”