Trollip responds to concerns on health, impact for city economy
The Nelson Mandela Bay metro has entered the fray to have the planned move of manganese ore facilities housed at the Port Elizabeth harbour speeded up, saying it cannot wait until 2023 for this move to take place.
An onsite inspection by top city officials followed just one day after a report in The Herald, in which harbour tenants raised fears over the impact of the manganese dust on business opportunities and the health of those exposed to it.
The city has now called on Transnet to fast-track the relocation of the bulk fuel storage and ore export facilities.
Mayor Athol Trollip, accompanied by mayoral committee members Andrew Whitfield, Lance Grootboom and Siyasanga Sijadu, visited the manganese ore facilities yesterday to investigate the complaints.
“When I read about civil unhappiness, I’ve a responsibility to investigate until I know whether it is justified or not,” Trollip said.
He said he would like to see the ore moved to the Port of Ngqura much sooner than the scheduled completion in 2023.
“I’d like to see it gone tomorrow, but that is impractical.
“I’m interested in cooperating with Transnet to facilitate the move as soon as possible.”
Trollip undertook to implement a full public health and environmental compliance assessment of the facilities. “While the city recognises the economic importance of both these bulk storage facilities, especially the exportation of manganese ore, we believe the life span of the current facilities has expired,” he said.
“We will be calling for [this] assessment to protect the interests of the citizens, as well as our critical economic growth sectors such as tourism and sports tourism, which are directly linked to a healthy environment and a growing economy.
“The city is committed to working with Transnet to accelerate the relocation of these facilities to the specially and specifically designed Port of Ngqura.”
The city had already met senior Transnet officials several times to expedite the process, Trollip said.
“We have informed them that we cannot wait until 2023 for this [to] happen.
“Our visit did expose the fact that the handling of such high volumes of ore in a suburban environment cannot be done without creating harmful dust discharges.”
However, he acknowledged that mitigating practices were in place to limit dust pollution and said manganese remained critical to the city’s economy.
“The current facility has been an eyesore and a health concern, [but] we believe manganese has played an important role in the history of the city and that it will continue to play an important role.
“We are concerned [with making] the transactions [around manganese exports and imports] in the best possible way so that it doesn’t impact negatively on the lives of [our people].”
Port manager Rajesh Dana also assured that Transnet was working hard to limit any negative impact of the facilities.
“We don’t dispute the inconvenience factor, but we’ll do anything humanly possible to mitigate it,” Dana said.
“We have superior controls in place and our independent scientific data confirms the operations do not pose any medical harm to employees and residents.”
The controls include the use of a chemical bonding agent as well as a wetting system, aimed at dust suppression throughout the process of moving the manganese – largely via an underground conveyor belt and enclosed tunnels – within the facility.
Dana also outlined a five-point plan for manganese management.
This plan would include reviewing controls, especially relating to dust suppression, continued analysis of data around air emissions and environmental impact, the establishment of a hotline for public concerns, monthly meetings with manganese operators and quarterly public engagements with stakeholders.
The onsite doctor for Transnet, Dr Martin Prinsloo, said a biological monitoring programme was in place, which had shown no signs of blood poisoning among exposed people in the port.
“Results have confirmed that not a single case of toxicology was ever recorded in the port,” Prinsloo said. “The manganese ore does not pose a health risk when managed responsibly like Transnet is doing.”
He said manganese should not be seen as a poisonous substance.
“It is an essential element in the human body.
“If a person’s manganese levels are too low, it needs to be supplemented, [and] if too high, it can lead to neurological problems, not respiratory problems.”
Dana said Transnet was working tirelessly to complete the move of the facilities to Ngqura.
“It is still expected to be completed in 2023, but we are looking at our relocation strategy and trying to improve on that.”
Port Elizabeth Deep Sea Angling Club chairman Richard Donaldson has described the situation as intolerable.
“Nowhere else in the world would a similar operation be allowed in the middle of a city, especially near major tourist attractions and residential areas,” he said earlier.
“The health issues caused by [the] ore dust are enormous.”
Donaldson said the oily grime left by the dust had harbour businesses, and especially the angling club and yacht club restaurants, at their wits’ end.
The severe damage to yachts and powerboats had resulted in many of the owners relocating their vessels to other ports.