Chemicals and other improperly disposed waste are a direct threat to our planet’s critically endangered marine life. When one organism is negatively impacted by toxic waste, it can destroy an entire food chain. In fact, any organism that digests contaminated marine life – and that includes humans – can be adversely affected.
Scientists from the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) chemistry department have found that the ocean around Cape Town is so polluted that pharmaceutical and industrial chemical compounds are accumulating in the flesh of fish caught off the city’s coast.
UWC study finds chemical compounds in fish at Kalk Bay
It was recently discovered that the fish caught by small-scale commercial fishers in Kalk Bay, a seaside suburb south of Cape Town, are contaminated by antibiotics, painkillers, antiretrovirals, disinfectants and various industrial chemicals. Hazardous waste such as these chemicals needs to be disposed of by a compliant company such as Averda.
The results in the UWC chemistry department’s peer-reviewed paper, authored by senior professor Leslie Petrik and Cecilia Ojemaye, are a cause for concern. The fish (species tested include snoek, bonita, Cape bream and panga) were tested for 15 different chemical compounds in the fillets, gills, liver and intestines. The fish were obtained from random daily commercial catches sold at Kalk Bay harbour in 2017.
Chemical compounds identified were the antibiotic Sulfamethoxazole, the disinfectant Triclosan, the anti-epileptic drug Carbamazepine and the analgesic/anti-inflammatories Diclofenac and Acetaminophen. A variety of industrial chemicals found in flame retardants, personal care products and pesticides were also present in the fish.
Traces of antibiotics detected in all fish species tested
The substance with the highest overall concentration out of all the pharmaceutical compounds was Diclofenac (analgesic/anti-inflammatory) while Sulfamethoxazole (antibiotic) was detected in at least one part of all the fish species (intestine, fillet, liver and gills).
The industrial chemicals, or perfluoroalkyl compounds, all “showed a high risk, both acute and chronic, in the fillet parts of the fish,” states the report’s authors. “Each chemical compound has a different acute and chronic risk associated with it,” they explain.
What is the reason for the presence of pharmaceutical compounds in fish and other marine life? These drugs are not completely metabolised in the body and are excreted by humans. Untreated or poorly treated sewage is then allowed to flow into our oceans, where the chemical compounds continue to affect marine life.
This UWC study – and many others – shows that these chemical compounds accumulate, not only in fish and other marine organisms but also in the bodies of humans who eat contaminated seafood.
Sewage pumped out to Cape seas daily
Every day, about 37-million litres of sewage gets pumped out to sea in Cape Town, from pump stations at Camps Bay, Green Point and Hout Bay. The only treatment at these stations (this has been confirmed by City authorities) is that the raw sewage is pumped through a grid to remove solids such as tampons and grit.
The sewage pumped out at Green Point includes waste from the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital. Waste from all medical and light industrial facilities between Salt River and Bantry Bay is also pumped into Cape Town’s ocean.
According to a June 2019 report by public-interest news agency Groundup, “the ocean around Cape Town is so polluted that pharmaceutical and industrial chemical compounds are accumulating in the flesh of fish caught off the coast”.
In February 2019, Groundup reported that The City of Cape Town has not published its water quality test results for the past two years. “The City has not made the results of water quality tests easily available to the public for the last five years. And the last results contained in their 2018 State of the Environment Report date back to 2016,” the report states.
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