FAHB believes that to find a solution to this situation, we need factual information on which to base our opinions and decisions. We are committed to providing factual, accurate information to help people understand the truth behind the odour pollution.
Thus far there has been a lot of misinformation. FAHB has been gathering information for more than four years and we have consolidated this into the frequently asked questions below. We hope this will help everyone become better informed, because this needs to be the basis for determining how to move forward. If you have more questions, let us know and we’ll do our best to find out.
General Questions and Production
The plant is in production for approximately 180 days per year (6 months). Production depends on fish availability so there is no specific day or time, but the factory is licensed to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is typically in production from February to November. FAHB has requested that Oceana develop a notification system to inform residents when the factory will be in production, but thus far this has not been implemented.
The odour from Oceana only happens when the factory is in production, and this depends entirely on whether or not they have fish to process. Weather conditions, fish stocks, and other factors influence this and it is difficult to anticipate when fish will be brought in for processing.
According to Oceana, the fishmeal factory has a typical fish catch landing of between 600 to 1000 tons per day. On average, they process 800 tons of fish per day. The plant has a maximum capacity of processing 1,200 tons per day and are allowed to process this amount under their current Atmospheric Emissions License (AEL).
Fishmeal processing follows several phases to reduce raw fish into fishmeal and fish oil. According to Oceana’s fishmeal factory website, the odour mainly comes from the driers; hot air passes over the cooked fish matter and in the process emits a very distinctive fishmeal smell. This smell is caused by a combination of different gases, the most predominant of which is Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) and Trimethylamines. These pollutants have an extremely low threshold of smell.
This is a complex situation and to understand it fully, you need to understand the hierarchy of environmental legislation that governs activities at the factory.
First there is the Constitution, which identifies the kind of environment that people have the right to live in. The National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) regulates the environment in accordance with the aims and objectives of the Constitution. Within NEMA, the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (NEM:AQA) sets various limits on emissions for different industries. There are also Municipal By-Laws with specific conditions, but these are subservient to the conditions of higher legislation.
Importantly, certain industries can be considered a ‘listed activity’, which means they are recognised for having activities that are unavoidably polluting in nature. In this case, industries must have an Atmospheric Emissions License (AEL) to operate, which sets limitations on permissible emissions.
Oceana is registered as a Category 10 Listed Activity for Animal Processing under NEM:AQA and have an AEL to operate.
Along with other things, the AEL is supposed to set limits for emissions but there are no specific H2S standards or limits set in South Africa. Within NEM:AQA, the Minister or MEC may prescribe specific emissions limits, but thus far they have not chosen to do so. FAHB is in communication with the City of Cape Town regarding this but there has been no outcome.
No. Oceana currently operates within all its legal requirements and there is no evidence to suggest malpractice. They have a 5 year lease that was issued by the National Department of Public Work at the end of 2015, and an Atmospheric Emissions License (AEL) issued by the City of Cape Town.
Oceana currently holds a 5-year lease, as granted by the National Department of Public Works at the end of 2015. Oceana says they are in consultation with the department to extend this lease for a further 20 years and to increase operations in the harbour. Oceana has also indicated that they are working with the department to expand the industrial zone of the harbour to increase their activities. FAHB finds this extremely concerning and is investigating this further.
This is also a complicated question and to understand it, you need to understand some of the history of environmental management in Hout Bay. Here is the information we received from the City of Cape Town:
The factory was first established and permitted to operate in terms of the offensive trade regulations back in the 1960’s. A Scheduled Industry Permit was issued to this facility in the early 1970’s by the National Department of Health in terms of the Air Pollution and Prevention Act (APPA). APPA was repealed and replaced with the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act (NEMAQA) which directed that the permit be converted to an Atmospheric Emission Licence (AEL). The facility was registered as an offensive trade in terms of the Offensive Trade Regulations which has also been repealed.
This function was transferred to the City of Cape Town by the National Department of Health. The National department licensed the facility up until 2012/13, then the licensing function became the responsibility of the City. In other words we inherited an existing facility which already had a pre-existing environmental authorisations (right) in place.
The rendering of industrial fish to produce fishmeal is a seasonal activity that takes place annually from February to August known to be a noxious industry which emit a number of malodourous emissions including Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) and Trimethylamines. These pollutants have an extremely low threshold of smell.
The NEMAQA: Listing Notice 893 of 2013, prescribes the minimum emission standards for all listed activities. The activity, operated by Lucky Star triggers a Category 10 Animal Matter Processing activity. Category 10 only prescribes the adoption of the best available method for odour control. The legislative competence to prescribe these standards rests with the National Minister of Environmental Affairs. All activities with the exception of Category 10 have prescribed minimum emission standards.
In terms of industry standard, the factory has of the most advanced odour abatement technology of all 9 fishmeal plants in the country and this has been confirmed by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the National Specialists Technical Advisor as well as by Local and Provincial government officials.
Measuring any odour is extremely subjective and there is no set way of determining how strong it is or what kind of an impact it has. However, one form of measurement is to record the levels of the chemicals emitted by the factory, specifically H2S. In March 2014, the Western Cape Government set up a ‘monitoring station’ at Sentinel Primary School to measure H2S levels and records of this can be obtained through the City of Cape Town’s Access to Information Process. There are no specific H2S standards published for South Africa but the World Health Organisation Air Quality Guidelines for Europe 2000 suggest a threshold of 150 µg/m3 over a 30 min period for H2S. FAHB sourced the readings from the monitoring station for the period of March 2014 – March 2015 and the summary of the report states that the “150 µg/m3 health threshold was not exceeded.” At various times the City of Cape Town has conducted ‘monitoring exercises’ and their reports maintain that everything is operating normally and no abnormal conditions were observed.
According to both Oceana and the City of Cape Town, the factory has of the most advanced odour abatement technology of all 9 fishmeal plants in the country and this has been confirmed by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the National Specialists Technical Advisor as well as by Local and Provincial government officials. In 2017 they installed a new chemical scrubber and maintain that there is currently no technology available that can eliminate the odour. For further information on the technology used at the factory, please visit Oceana’s website.
Taking legal action is likely to be a difficult path.
There is no evidence to suggest that Oceana is acting outside of the law and they are fully compliant with all their legal requirements. Taking legal action against them in this regard would be completely futile and costly.
FAHB investigated whether the odour could be registered as a public nuisance but the City claims this is not possible. A conflict exists: the City issues Oceana the Atmospheric Emissions Licence (AEL) on the condition that they comply with the prescribed requirements; they cannot on the one hand issue the licence, and then on the other prosecute them for nuisance odour. The City claims that if prosecution were to take place, this would need to be conducted in terms of the Air Quality Act with its R5 Million Rand penalties, but as there are no contraventions of the Air Quality Act, they are not in the position to prosecute Oceana.
FAHB is seeking legal advice on this process, but essentially it means that this is not a legal issue but an ethical one.
No Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has ever been conducted for the factory and there has been no consideration as to how the community has developed over the past 50 years. Hout Bay is no longer a small fishing village, it is classified as a ‘large town’ within upwards of 40,000 people and we need to sustainably meet the needs of our growing community.
FAHB believes that social and environmental impact assessments should be conducted to determine what the best options are for the harbour. If you have advice for how to proceed legally or can often some advice, please do let us know.
Employment at the factory
According to Oceana, there are currently 92 land based staff working at the factory. There is a lot of debate about where these people are from and the answers are unclear. Information suggests that approximately 58% of the employees reside in Hout Bay. A further 25% reside in Mitchell’s Plain and are bussed in to work, but these people were originally from Hout Bay and relocated as part of a housing program provided by Oceana. In addition, there are 124 sea-faring staff who are employed on a seasonal basis. FAHB also notes that there has been a 10% decrease of employment over the past 3 years – in 2014 there were 102 land-based staff, whereas in 2017 there are only 92. Oceana claims that this decline is due to natural management processes but FAHB is concerned by this low employment rate.
Oceana have not disclosed actual economic figures for their employment, but in a meeting held in 2014 they stated that between R10 – 15 million was paid in terms of salary and wages. In addition, staff were paid in excess of R35 million as shareholders of the company in 2014. At this stage, no further details are available. We do not know how evenly those shares are distributed nor do we know the average salary of a factory worker. FAHB is trying to investigate this further but the topic of income is sensitive. If you have any advice on how to get this information from labour departments or the like, please let us know.
FAHB has received conflicting information and the details are hard to say with certainty. The labour arrangements for continued production were made between the Food and Agricultural Union (FAWU) and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). It appears that workers will no longer be employed year-round on a supposedly ad-hoc basis and instead will be guaranteed two days of work per week, irrespective of fish availability, and in line with historic wage rates.
The FAWU representative commented “the company cannot afford to pay them like before” yet somehow an arrangement was agreed on. FAHB is concerned that this arrangement does not significantly benefit the workers or improve socio-economic conditions of local communities but in the absence of solid information, it is increasingly hard to determine. If you have any advice on how to get this information from labour departments or the like, please let us know.
To determine the impact on health, we have to agree on what ‘health’ means. Many people have said that ‘no-one has died’ from the odour and use this as an indicator for measuring the health impacts; if it doesn’t kill you, it’s not bad for you. This is not an accurate reflection of ‘health’.
The World Health Organisation, a specialised agency of the United Nations, defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
In this respect, the odour from the factory has multiple health impacts.
Most common odour-related symptoms reported are burning eyes, sore throat, nose irritation, headache, nausea, cough, nose congestion and short breath. Mental effects are depression, fatigue and sleeplessness, mood disturbance and also a decrease in working efficiency. These symptoms are common to numerous odour-related cases around the world.
Two things need to be considered: high exposure over a short period, and low exposure over a long period.
For high exposure over a short period, the World Health Organisation identifies a health threshold of 150 µg/m3 over a 30 minute period for H2S. In the reports from the monitoring station, on days of high production the factory can emits less than half of that and it is unlikely that there is a risk of high exposure.
Low exposure over a long period, however, is a different story. Various studies have been conducted and it is apparent that low-level exposure toxicity fromH2S is still unclear; some studies show no effect and others show toxic effects. Much of the data, however, as well as the recommendations from institutions such as the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the World Health Organisation (WHO), suggest toxicity from long-term exposure is likely to exist below the odour threshold. This suggests that an individual should not be exposed long term to any level of H2S that one can smell.
In Hout Bay, more than 40,000 people are exposed to low levels of H2S for approximately six months of the year as a result of the Oceana factory. FAHB has received hundreds of comments from people in the community detailing how their health has been affected.
Apparently a health assessment was conducted in 1996, but FAHB has not been able to source these reports. Another health assessment was conducted in 2016. There was much controversy around this assessment – initially it was announced that the report did highlight health concerns and as a result housing development in Hangberg was delayed. Several month later, however, it was reported that there are no health concerns. You can read more about this situation here and in our other FAHB updates. FAHB received sections of the 2016 health risk assessment in August 2017 and is currently reviewing the information.
There are two places to register a complaint: with the fish factory and with the City of Cape Town.
City of Cape Town: A number of people within the City of Cape Town need to be informed about complaints and you can download a contact list here. Right click over this hyperlink, select ‘copy email address’ and paste these into your email.
Prior to 2014, complaints were recorded relatively informally. Through examining C3 Registers obtained through the Access to Information Process, it is clear that phone calls and emails were loosely kept track of but there were serious gaps in the reporting and documenting of complaints.
In 2014, after increasing complaints from the community, Oceana launched its fishmeal factory website which includes a complaints form. Residents are directed to register complaints through the website, which Oceana then records and submits to the City as one of the conditions of their AEL.
Residents have raised doubts that these complaints are actually submitted in a timely manner to the City, if at all. While we welcome the effort to have some form of documenting available, we firmly believe that the complaints register should be maintained by the City and not by Oceana. The perpetrator of a complaint cannot maintain a complaints register against themselves – this is a blatant conflict of interest.
We have raised this issue with the City of Cape Town in an official FAHB letter submitted in April 2016.
Registering complaints in an important way of establishing baseline information of when and how people are affected by the odour pollution. To get an accurate understanding of what impact the odour pollution has, you need to register a complaint each time you affected. This can be very tedious but important none the less. You also need to include as much information as possible including the where you live, the time of day and weather conditions. This will help us to plot geographically who is affected and when.
At the end of 2015 Oceana established a Community Stakeholder Forum to facilitate more communication and understanding between the factory and the community. The community organisations included on this Forum are FAHB, the Peace and Mediation Forum, the Civic Association, and SANCO. The Forums are intended to be held bi-annually, but thus far only two meetings have taken place – one in January 2016 and another in July 2016. There is no date set for a further meeting.
Yes. FAHB has been actively trying to speak to and work with various organisations within Hout Bay to gain their perspective and share understanding. We have held meetings and participated in discussion panels to talk about the situation at the factory. If you have ideas for how we could do this better, or have people or institutions that we should get in touch with, please let us know.
Do you have any questions that you would like the answers to? Please leave us a comment and let us know, we’ll answer as best we can and find out the information if we don’t have the answer.