Kaolin dust warning

A dust bucket on a kaolin heap. Imhoff's Gift Homeowners Association say the dust buckets are positioned too high to catch the dust.

The Homeowners’ Association of Imhoff’s Gift wants work stopped on a posh housing estate opposite the community, arguing an environmental study failed to warn of a grave threat to public health from kaolin dust.

The association wants a new environmental management plan (EMP) drawn up for the Kommetjie Vineyards Estate, one, it says, that takes into account the harm the dust can do.

Imhoff’s Gift, on the old Imhoff Farm, is a residential estate with 150 plots situated between Masiphumelele and Ocean View on Atlantic Drive.

The association is backed by an internationally recognised environmental management expert, who warns long-term exposure to kaolin dust, can cause pneumoconiosis and other serious lung diseases.

Dr Derek Berliner, who is himself a resident of Imhoff’s Gift, has 25 years experience in environmental management.

His work on the St Lucia
estuary dune mining environmental impact assessment (EIA) helped set standards in the country for future such assessments.

He accuses the consulting environmentalists, Ecosense, who did the EMP for the estate, of negligence and says the developer, Kommetjie Vineyard Estates Pty Ltd, is treating the dust problem as “a minor inconvenience to neighbours”.

“It is shocking that an environmental impact report specifically designated to identify these kinds of risks, has failed to even mention the word ‘kaolin’ under the dust-management section,” he said.

Dr Shahieda Adams, an occupational medicine specialist who deals with the maintenance of health in the workplace including the prevention and treatment of diseases, confirmed airborne kaolin could cause respiratory problems such as pulmonary fibrosis, which is scarring of the lung tissue.

The condition, she said, could lead to serious breathing problems. Kaolin is a soft white clay made up of a mixture of different minerals and contains silica and small amounts of lead among others.

It is used to make porcelain as well as in the making of paper, rubber and paint.

But Christine Rabie, director of environmental management at Ecosense, disagrees her
EMP was negligent. She cited sections in the report that refer to “dust management”.

But the Imhoffs Gift residents argue the report should have made specific reference to “kaolin dust”

Ms Rabie said there was no substantiated evidence in 2009 when the EMP was done, or now, that prolonged exposure to kaolin had associated health risks.

But her assertion contradicts what both Dr Berliner and Dr Adams maintain.

The EMP was approved by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning after being reviewed by the City of Cape Town’s environmental management department and Table Mountain National Park.

Construction of the estate started in January last year and a huge tract of ground was laid bare with piles of kaolin exposed along the entire perimeter.

Aided by the south easter, clouds of kaolin dust blow into Imhoff’s Gift and its neighbours, Bluewater Estate.

Dorothy Summer, a trustee on the homeowners’ association, said they had met with a representative of the estate in November to discuss the matter.

In response to their complaints, additional water was sprayed and dust buckets were put up.

The spraying of water had had little impact, she said, and they felt the dust buckets had been placed too high to catch the dust.

In a letter to the developer dated January 21, the trustees demanded that:

Blob: Dust be monitored independently and results made available to residents.

Blob: Chemical compounds in the dust emissions be analysed independently.

Blob: That the national Department of Health be alerted to a public health issue that could have long- term consequences.

Blob: Mitigation suggestions be made immediately.

Blob: A proper environmental report be done on the correct way to manage kaolin.

Ms Summer said the developer had made things worse by covering piles of kaolin with untreated manure, which attracted swarms of flies. Kommetjie Vineyards Estate spokesman Jan Bergman said a team was dealing with the issues raised. The compost heaps had been covered and the fly problem controlled.

But, Ms Summer said the flies were still bugging some residents.

Ms Summer said the EMP didn’t say how kaolin dust might affect children and it was also quiet, she claimed, about the possible impact on the surrounding communities of Masiphumelele and Ocean View.

She said some residents had reported respiratory allergic reactions, skin and eye infections as well as excessive hair loss in pets.

“We feel the EMP is flawed and the omission to analyse the effects kaolin dust will have on the surrounding communities was irresponsible and does not show an unbiased professional assessment but rather one which favours the development,” she said.

Following complaints from the homeowners’ association, the City issued the developer, with a pre-compliance notice in October which required them to submit a plan showing how the dust would be controlled at the site.

According to the Kommetjie Vineyard Estate website, the first six phases of the 12-phase development includes entry level houses, townhouses and upmarket houses.

Phase one, which includes the roads and vineyards, is expected to be completed by the end 2019 and the first houses by mid 2020.

Mr Bergman said construction was happening in strict accordance with the EMP.

An appointed liaison would address the demands residents had made, he said.

Mayoral committee member for community services and health, Zahid Badroodien, said the dust buckets at the site were monitored independently and according to reports for the past two months, dust levels had complied with national regulations under the Air Quality Act.

He said the developer had taken several steps to deal with the problem such as wetting the site with non-potable water four times a day, with 16 000 litres of water per trip, and covering exposed stockpiles.

He said a site meeting between representatives of the City’s air quality management unit, the developer, and the construction and engineering company had been held on Monday February 11 to discuss what more could be done once construction started next week after the festive season break.