Cancer valley pays a high price for South Africa's oil needs - It's not just coal power stations, oil slicks, and ICE vehicles doing the killing - Emissions limits are too high as well
Cancer rates are so high that everyone speaks about it as “cancer valley”. Research by the University of KwaZulu-Natal shows that leukaemia is 24 times higher here than anywhere else in the country. Half the schoolchildren in the area suffer from asthma.
The two largest industries are the oil refineries, but the presence of many other petrochemical plants means there are about 300 smokestacks in South Durban. Oil tankers bring 80% of the country’s crude oil to a mooring buoy 2km off the coast.
The 60-year-old Engen refinery and the 50-year-old Sapref refinery (owned by Shell and BP) process this oil into petrol, diesel and paraffin. Other industries that rely on petrochemicals, such as plastics and benzene manufacturing, have opened around them.
The city’s air quality records show that over 100 different chemicals are pumped into the air. The worst are sulphur dioxide and benzene, which the World Health Organisation says causes asthma, cardiopulmonary disease and cancer.
The refineries have said the high level of illness in the area is a coincidence and none has been convicted of causing illness there.
The various parts of the health department refer questions to each other, but a doctor in the community says treating chest problems takes up a large part of every day. It is also expensive, because patients require constant medication and consultations, as well as emergency treatment and hospitalisation. People with cancer are also a disproportionate health burden, with many not having the money to access more advanced treatment such as chemotherapy, the doctor says.
The eThekwini municipality’s air quality monitoring report from 2008 says the average levels of sulphur dioxide are within guidelines. In South Africa, refineries can emit 19 tonnes a day although in Europe the limit is two tonnes.
|Cancer valley pays a high price for South Africa's oil needs
Respiratory illnesses are taking their toll on South Durban residents, but petrochemical firms deny culpability and won't cough up for health costs.