Nutrients are pollutants: Official

28 January 2012


(With apologies to Regan)

One can only wonder about where the advisors to the South African Minister of Water & Environmental Affairs (DWAE) get their material from?

In a press release yesterday, the DWAE announced

South Africa welcomes the outcomes of the 3rd Intergovernmental Review on the Global Programme of Action (GPA) for the Protection of Marine Environment from Land-Based activities that was held in Manila, the Philippines from 25 – 26 January 2012.

The conference considered how coastal and marine ecosystems can contribute to a green economy taking into account the need for lower carbon inputs, more efficient use of resources, food and water security, adaptation to climate change and the need for improved water quality.

The major outcome of IGR3 was the unanimous agreement by governments to increase efforts to tackle key land-based sources affecting coastal water quality, namely wastewater, marine litter and nutrients.

South Africa’s participation was led by the Department of Environmental Affairs. The Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi attended the high level segment aimed at mobilising political will and renewing the commitment of governments towards further implementation of the GPA.

So far, all good.  Then comes the shocker:

“South Africa supports the notion that the three priority pollutants be treated as ‘resources’ with a potential to support ‘green economic growth’. We need to find ways of putting excess nutrients, wastewater and litter to good use,” said Mabudafhasi.

Notion?? Nutrients are pollutants???

Minister, these issues are the furthest departure from a ‘notion’ possible!  There have been calls in South Africa for the proper treatment of wastewater and the beneficiation of products therefrom, for three decades now.  Nutrients are not pollutants – they are elements essential for life!  When they are present in excess, however, e.g. arising from inadequately-treated wastewater (read everywhere in South Africa), they cause eutrophication to occur.  Wastewater contains pollutants in addition to nutrients.  Litter is not, sensu strictu,  a pollutant!   Litter is a huge problem in both the freshwater and marine environments, but litter is litter!

Here’s a handy definition, easily available from Wikipedia:

pollutant is a waste material that pollutes air, water or soil, and is the cause of pollution.  Three factors determine the severity of a pollutant: its chemical nature, its concentration and its persistence.  Some pollutants are biodegradable and therefore will not persist in the environment in the long term. However the degradation products of some pollutants are themselves polluting such as the products DDE and DDD produced from degradation of DDT.

Its not your fault, Minister, you just need better-informed script writers!

Oh, and by the way:  as with the trying to find the cause of lightning, we already know how to beneficiate these waste streams!  No need for any research, just get on with it.

We need to stop dumping poorly-treated effluents into the nearest stream, river or coastline!  What Water Affairs should be doing is “mobilizing the intra-governmental political will [this is not a DWA issue alone, it’s a national problem] to stop dodging the problem, realize the dangers and do something about it“.

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