Package plants in the Durban area

Snake-oil Salesmen in the wastewater treatment industry

The art of passing off sewage package plants that don't perform.

. . . 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 McLeod (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.

Sewage Package plants were the quick answer for the developers, and Durban Metro.

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 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 McLeod's responsibility to fix this quickly and since the Hillcrest sewage works was already overloaded, 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 system designs out there in the industry, but many do not all live up to their promises.  

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

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 will deter others from making the same mistakes. Much public perception and mistrust is out there, offering reluctance to purchase eco-friendly water saving devices, and this needs to be dealt with, openly. Failing which, public participation and buy-in will remain a grudge.

SEWPACKSA The Association of package plant suppliers

And, it would be advisable to avoid the Package plants association SEWPACKSA guidance, since this only muddied the water even more.

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