DA demands URGENT action on N Cape asbestos issue

Karen de Kock, MPL

DA Northern Cape – Provincial Spokesperson of Health

With over 71 000 residents in the Postmasburg and  De Aar areas in the Northern Cape set to be exposed to asbestos contamination, the Democratic Alliance is demanding urgent action from government.  In this regard, the DA will request urgent intervention from the Green Scorpions. We will also write to the provincial departments of health and environment to establish whether they have been consulted in terms of Transnet’s planned dumping of 560 000 tons of asbestos in De Aar, and whether they are involved in mitigating the effects of the asbestos, already dumped in Postmasburg, which has now been found to be exposed by the elements. The DA will further write to Northern Cape Premier, Sylvia Lucas, requesting her to lodge an intergovernmental dispute with the relevant national departments responsible for authorizing Transnet to use Northern Cape towns as an asbestos dumping ground.

Asbestos contamination is already a crisis in the Northern Cape. According to previous media reports, between 30 and 50 new cases of asbestos related sickness are treated in Kimberley Hospital every month. The areas around Kuruman and Prieska have the highest incidence of asbestos related illness. People living in these areas get exposed to asbestos on a daily basis, even though all asbestos mines have closed down. Asbestos contamination causes three deadly diseases. Asbestosis damages the lungs, which leads to breathing problems and can lead to heart attacks. It is caused by breathing in asbestos fibers. Lung cancer can also be caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. It is identical to the lung cancer caused by inhaling cigarette smoke. The most painful asbestos related disease is mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer. None of these health conditions can be cured and treating them is extremely costly and puts a great deal of pressure on our already over-burdened health system.

Given the above, government simply cannot afford to allow this health crisis to be extended further across the province by turning a blind eye to asbestos dumping. However, it seems that they don’t grasp the severity of the asbestos dilemma. In 2011, a task team comprising of local, provincial and national officials was established to consider options, draw up an operational plan, calculate the costs and to present it to the government for approval for the next financial year. However, mitigating action has been minimal and during the departmental budget presentations in May, the department of environment still didn’t know how much funding would be allocated to rehabilitating asbestos roads and areas for the 2013/2014 year.

The DA will continue to monitor this issue and drive it at a national level. Depending on how these issues are resolved, we will also consider reporting the matter to the Human Rights Commission, as non-action by government serves to violate the health rights of countless community members.

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