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Scarab blog - Snake oil salesman

Snake-oil salesmen

The art of passing off sewage treatment systems that won't perform as promised . . . copied from the Wastewater Watch

There has been recent negative reports that Western Cape, and in particular, Cape Town (see Cape Town report here) has put a spanner in the works for new developments.  Some say the holdup is water, as "Day Zero" looms just about every year. Wastewater recycling would definitely relieve pressure on clean water supplies.  But, before I go on, let me tell you a story . . .

Once upon a time, in the early 2000's, the Durban / Pinetown / Hillcrest area of KZN experienced a major surge in housing estates and rural developments. Neil Macleod (retired Head of eThekweni Sewage) was under pressure to allow the construction to start, without providing services, like sewerage. It was the developer's responsibility to find a solution.

Solution - Package plants!! 

Now, there were only two local suppliers on the approved list, at that stage, both were accepted by Neil, and hence many projects were given the green light.

It was only in about 2004, cracks started appearing. One upmarket Hillcrest development, Le Domaine had a sewage system installed that was so bad, it leaked from just about every joint, and sewage had filled the bund area. It was held together with self-tapping screws and cable ties. The flies and mosquitos were in their millions, and the odour you could cut with a butter knife.  A video was taken and presented to Sandra (Durban Metro), and an in-depth investigation revealed a total of 66 package treatment plants, mainly from these two suppliers, had failed. McLeod,  embarrassed by this fiasco,  immediately implemented a moratorium, and all pending developments stopped. Durban metro had people living on expensive properties and the sewage was untreated, creating a serious health risk in the "well-to-do" areas. It had become Neil MaCleod's responsibility to fix this quickly and since the Hillcrest sewage works was already overloaded, and he couldn't. The two suppliers couldn't either.

Cape's stance on developments, may be in line with good governance, and quite justifiable , based on the above.  Make no mistake,  there are a few really great sewage treatment systems out there in the industry, but many do not all live up to their promises.  

Lesson - if you prescribe something, make sure it works.

Sewage Treatment Systems Snake Oil

And you may ask where these two snake-oil salesmen are now? Well, they are both still in business.

Are they selling the same stuff? I honestly don't know the contents, but it still comes in the same bottle, with the same label.  However, the good news is that both have design patents, which, hopefully this will deter others from making the same mistakes. Much public perception and mistrust is out there, offering reluctance to purchase eco-friendly friendly water saving devices, and the this needs to be dealt with, openly. Failing which, public participation and buy-in will remain a grudge.

And what happened to Neil Macleod?  He was nominated for the annual Fish-kill Award, and later ' retired '  from Durban Metro.  Ironically, he's now in the toilet business (read here).


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