Harmful substances found in Hartbeespoort Dam

According to a research paper published in the Water SA journal this year, high concentrations of poly- and perfluorinated substances (PFASs) were found in Hartbeespoort Dam.

PFAS are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. Many chemicals in this group have been a worldwide concern because they do not break down in the environment, can move through soils and contaminate drinking water sources, and they build up in fish and wildlife.

The aim of the present study was to identify the presence and concentrations of targeted PFASs in water samples from two important water sources, namely Hartbeespoort and Roodeplaat Dams, since the dams provide water for domestic consumption, irrigation, fishing and recreational activities.

Water samples were collected from downstream to upstream of the dams with the assistance of the Department of Water and Sanitation

The study found that the concentrations of PFAS in Hartbeespoort Dam are higher than the lifetime health advisory issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), raising the concern that communities consuming water from the dams are exposed to the compounds, which may result in adverse health effects.

According to the study, the possible main source of these compounds is most likely from use of PFASs-containing products, since PFASs are not produced in South Africa.

“ Since PFASs are persistent compounds, the concentrations obtained in the present study are of concern. Therefore, efforts should be geared towards creating awareness on the possible consequences from exposure to PFAS-containing products and restricting the use of PFAS-containing products.”

According to the EPA, there is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans. It said that studies indicate that these substances can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. The chemicals have also caused tumours in animals. “The most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption,” according to EPA.

The research paper, Poly- and perfluorinated substances in environmental water from the Hartbeespoort and Roodeplaat Dams, South Africa, is available in Water SA vol.47 n.1 Pretoria Jan. 2021.