Cancer walkers demand health clinic, sanctions

HUNDREDS of concerned residents took to the streets in an inaugural ‘cancer walk’ in Wentworth on Saturday, 11 October to raise awareness of the disease and its prevalence in South Durban.

The walk, which was hosted by the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), Blue Roof Wellness Centre and Mother’s Prayer Group aimed to make people aware of cancer, living a healthy lifestyle and to show that cancer is on the rise in the area.

Walkers set off from the Badulla Road sports grounds and made a stop outside the Engen Refinery, where SDCEA co-ordinator, Desmond D’Sa listed their concerns relating to emissions from chemical industries impacting on the health of local communities. The gathering ended their peaceful walk at the Highbury Road sports grounds, followed by speeches and entertainment.

D’Sa read out a list of demands the community is calling for. “We have come here to Engen Refinery as we have done since 1995 when we informed former President Nelson Mandela in the streets of our problems. He informed the communities that we as people of South Durban must not be afraid to raise our voices when we are affected – be it the high levels of pollution or the high unemployment rate.

For many years, we as the residents have been victims of Engen’s pollution. The health study in 2002 confirmed that half the population at the Settlers Primary School has asthma. Within that population more than half the children have chronic asthma. The health study completed in 2007, funded by industry, eThekwini Municipality and provincial and national government, showed an acceleration of people affected by asthma.

We are known to live in the ‘cancer valley’ of Durban. We are burying people dying from cancer every week. According to statistics of CANSA, 90% of cancers are affected by the surrounding environment,” said D’Sa

According to SDCEA, cancer-causing chemicals like benzene, toluene and xylene are emitted by petrochemical industries in the area at alarming rates. “Our young children are dying of leukemia in our polluted suburbs,” said SDCEA communications and project officer, Noluthando Mbeje. She was referring to a study completed in 2000 by public health specialist, Dr Blaauw, that showed the presence of cancer could be as much as 24 times higher in South Durban’s cancer valley’ than in any other part of the country and that the rate of leukaemia in children under 10 in Merebank was at least 24 times higher than the national rate.

With this in mind, SDCEA read out a list of demands as the crowd gathered outside the refinery. These included:

  • A 24-hour health clinic with qualified asthma and cancer nurses.
  • A cancer registry to gather statistics.
  • A description of chemicals being emitted by factories as recommendation by the 2007 health study.
  • A reduction of vehicle emissions.A polluter-pay system.
  • Sanctions and action against major polluters.
  • For the national Department of Environmental Affairs to deny polluting industries any postponement in complying with established standards for toxic emissions.
Erin Hanekom

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