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What is the real situation at the factory?

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.

There have been a lot of emotions and a lot of misinformation. There are questions that get asked repeatedly and there is a general lack of understanding about what is really going on. FAHB has been gathering information over the past two years and have consolidated this into the questions below. Hopefully 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 entirely 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. Oceana has stated that the factory will not be in production over Easter weekend in 2016, and generally the plant is not in production from November to January, but production can be anticipated at any other time. FAHB has requested that Oceana develop some kind of notification system to inform residents when the factory will be in production, but they say this would be too difficult: the factory is only in production when fish is available, and this is determined by fish availability and weather conditions among other things. The factory is licensed to process up to 800 tons of fish per day and as soon as it arrived production begins, often in the early hours of the morning. The smell can be expected any time of day or night all year round.

The terrible smell from the Oceana factory 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 fish 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.

The factory emits a variety of substances, the most predominant of which are Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) and Trimethylamines.

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 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. According to the City of Cape Town, the factory is  “generally in compliance with their emissions licence conditions.

Along with other things, the AEL is supposed to set limits for emissions but there no specific H2S standards published for South Africa. Within NEM:AQA, “the Minister or MEC may prescribe measures for the control of offensive odours emanating from specified activities.” According to the City of Cape Town, “to date neither the Minister or MEC has chosen to do so,” the reason being that “odour has many different causative agents, each with a different threshold of smell. Setting a standard would be extremely difficult.

FAHB is investigating the legal aspect further and any contributions would be warmly welcomed.

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, s 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 measureH2S 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 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. They maintain that there is currently no technology available that can eliminate the odour. A number of companies have approached FAHB with potential technological solutions, but these have been dismissed by Oceana’s technical team. For further information on the technology used at the factory, please visit Oceana’s website.

Oceana has conducted various upgrades and improvements to the factory over the years. In November 2015 when Oceana announced the factory would remain open, they also announced that R11 million would be spent on upgrading the factory. Of this R11 million, R2 million would be spent on odour abatement technology improvements. In his statement Oceana CEO Francois Kuttel categorically stated that this investment would not have a significant impact on the odour.

The factory is in the process of upgrading their chemical scrubber but this will take time to procure and commission. It is anticipated the new chemical scrubber will be operational in 2017.

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 smell could be registered as a public nuisance. According to the City of Cape Town, “the same authority that has issued a premises a licence to operate a listed activity that is known to be an operation that generates malodours, and for which there are no emission limits specified in the Listing Notice, cannot on the one hand licence the premises and on the other hand prosecute them for nuisance odours. Should any prosecution need to take place, this would need to be conducted in terms of the Air Quality Act with its R5 Million Rand penalties. As there are no contraventions of the Air Quality Act we are not in the position to prosecute Lucky Star.

This 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, and we are seeking legal advice on how to achieve this.

Employment at the factory

According to Oceana, there are 98 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.

Oceana have not disclosed actual economic figures for their employment, but in a meeting held in 2014 they stated: “between R10 million to R15 million was paid in terms of salary and wages. In addition, staff were paid in excess of R35 million due to them being shareholders of the company. So in total the staff received approximately R50 million over the last year and this is in addition to the sea going staff.” At this stage, further details are not 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.

Health Impacts

Two main gases are emitted by the factory, Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) and Trimethylamines.

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 smell 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 smell 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.

We are calling on the City of Cape Town to conduct valid and accurate health studies to determine the health impacts of this exposure, to share those results with all sectors of the community and to guarantee that the health and well-being of residents is being protected above corporate interests.

The City of Cape Town and Oceana both claim that a number of health studies have been conducted, but this information is certainly not in the public realm. We have made requests to both institutions to receive these reports but have not yet received any information.

There has been a lot of conflicting information regarding the issue of health; the Air Quality Unit assures residents there are no health impacts, yet the Human Settlement Directorate was told to cease building residential units near the factory because an ‘expert health study has stated that proximity to the fish factory with its inevitable noxious emissions renders this land unusable for residential buildings.” We were also told by the City of Cape Town that further health studies would be conducted over a 3-month period towards the end of 2015 but it is unlikely this was completed because the factory was not in production.

In summary, there is currently no evidence that indicates clearly whether the factory is a health risk or not. If you are involved in the health field and have further studies or ideas we could research, please contact the FAHB organising team.

Registering Complaints

There are two places to register a complaint: with the fish factory and with the City of Cape Town.

Fish Factory: Complaints can be registered on the fish factory website, through email (hbfishfactory.management@ob.co.za) or by calling +27 21 791 8000.

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.

You can also complete an official Air Pollution Affidavit and explaining how you are impacted by the odour pollution. FAHB asks that you complete the affidavit, have it stamped by a Commissioner of Oaths and send it the FAHB team. You can either scan a copy and email us, or drop off your hard copy at Tada Coffee Shop in Hout Bay. FAHB is collecting these affidavits to prove that people are seriously impacted by the odour pollution – please help us do this and complete an affidavit.

If you register a complaint through the fish factory website, you will likely receive a standardised response stating that the factory is working under normal operating conditions. If you contact the City of Cape Town they are likely to give you a similar response. Any additional communication provided by the City of Cape Town is being recorded here.

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, again after numerous 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, theoretically, submits to the City as one of the conditions of their AEL.

Residents have serious 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.

When Oceana announced its proposed closure in August 2015, one of the main reasons cited was the 240% increase in community complaints. Oceana attributed this increase to the “mob mentality” of complaints promoted on social media sites. FAHB believes that one reason for the increase of complaints is largely because this is the first time they have actually been documented. Prior to 2014, the fish factory did not have a website to register complaints and so actual recording was not very accurate. FAHB has also worked to increase awareness of the complaints process through social media sites, encouraging people who are affected to document their concerns, but do not believe this was done in a “mob mentality” style.

Many people also believe that the smell has gotten worse in recent years. This is very subjective – smell memory is a very personal thing and people often feel that what they are experiencing ‘right now’ is worse than it has ever been. There is no way of proving this. In reality, Oceana has improved a lot of their odour abatement technology over the years and it is possible that the smell was worse than it is now. The difference is that now we experience it more – as a bustling community with economic activity, we are exposed and impacted by the smell more and this makes it seem worse than it has ever been. There is no evidence to ‘prove’ whether the smell is better or worse, but this doesn’t change the fact that it is horrendous and has a serious and negative impact on life in Hout Bay.

Community Engagement

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 the Peace and Mediation Forum, the Civic Association, and the Hout Bay Residents and Ratepayers Association. FAHB requested to be represented independently on this Forum but Oceana declined, citing the organisation as ‘disingenuous’. They believe FAHB represents a minority group within Hout Bay and do not represent the broader community.

In reality, FAHB has almost 500 registered participants in our group, and our recent petition has almost 1,500 supporters. Oceana’s claims that FAHB is ‘disingenuous’ are completely inaccurate and we believe it their way of trying to silence the issue.

The Forum plans to meet bi-annually. The first meeting was held in January 2016; minutes were recorded by Oceana but will only be finalised at the next meeting scheduled for July 2016. FAHB will share these documents when they are available.

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.

Comments 5

  1. Barry Wessels

    another company providing portable odour measuring equipment is SCENTROID. com. We would need the services of a professional (environmental?) engineer to select , operate and certify results. etc

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      Author
  2. Barry Wessels

    greetings,

    I have already been in the local press expressing the extreme discomfort that the factory places us under during the first quarter of each year, and make the following comments:

    1) writing to either Oceana or the plant manager is futile. I have done so, even inviting the CEO Francois Kuttel and his wife to tea on my verandah in Northshore, next time the stink is bad. naturally, he and his PR guys did not bother accepting! (really no point in meeting with them again!)

    2) Employment / job creation: Oceana create some 110 permanent jobs and 200 odd casual / seasonal poorly paid jobs, and therefore are not the saviour of HB. the local chamber could provide figures, however, i believe that we create around 1,500 to 2,000 permanent jobs for the community, and this should be verified and publicised.

    3) City response: is predictable and unacceptable. – time to write and quote them in the press as fobbing off the ratepayers and affected people.

    4) we need to tackle Oceana and the City with the nuisance by-laws. If they can tell us how many minutes my yorkie can bark for before she becomes a nuisance, they can certainly deal with Oceana, and must do so.
    if a municpal sewer pump station emits odours due to malfunction, or if a pig farm adjacent or upwind form a built up area does not manage its waste and stinks badly, the City is certainly empowered to issue notices of compliance.! lets find the by-laws and pressure them in the press.

    5) A survey of estate agents, restaurants / coffee shops will reveal how many lost sales there have been due to the odours, but may be reticent to be placed on record as this give HB and their business a bad reputation.

    regards,

    barry wessels

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      Author
      kiara.worth@gmail.com

      Hi Barry,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful and comprehensive comments, they are very helpful.

      We agree, registering complaints with the fish factory does nothing to alleviate the smell, but it does serve another purpose. As part of the Atmospheric Emissions License that Oceana needs to process fishmeal, they are legally bound to submit a database of all community complaints which plays a role in identifying the scope of the problem. So while the process is tedious and seemingly ineffective, it is very important – the more complaints logged, the more the issue is raised and I would encourage you to do this at every opportunity.

      Yes, the job creation from the plant is minimal – Oceana have confirmed they employ 102 people permanently and a further 124 sea-faring people on a seasonal basis. We need to think more creatively about how these jobs, and more, could be created if a more sustainable enterprise were in the harbour – the opportunities are vast.

      You are absolutely correct about the by-laws and the Air Quality Management By-Law is open for comment from 16 March – 16 April. If you are able, please have a look at the document here: http://www.capetown.gov.za/en/PublicParticipation/Documents/HYS_Air_quality_management_draft_bylaw.pdf. We are planning to formally submit our comments to this, so please do send any comments you have to us.

      A survey is also an excellent idea and we have started one here: http://www.surveyact.com/s/4M3TLCLiUfcS9H7M. Again, if you have comments on this or can help us promote this, we would be most grateful.

      Thanks again – there is a lot of work to be done and we need people like you to be involved!

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