Chemical pollution arising from heavy inorganic industries in Richards Bay - an assessment.
The industrial port of Richards Bay on the eastern seaboard of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa has undergone rapid growth over the last 25 years. This industrial growth has inevitably led to an increase in the anthropogenic pollutant inputs in the area. However, the degree of this contamination has not previously been assessed not been accompanied by an awareness of its environmental impacts. This project serves to assess the current environmental situation of the area and provide background levels against which the environmental impacts of further growth in the area can be assessed. The main pollution point sources in the area were identified as a pulp and paper plant, a sulfuric acid/fertiliser plant and aluminium smelters. The chemical and physical processes involved within these industries were identified and discussed in detail. The common inorganic pollutants emitted by these industries were identifies as trace metals, sulfur dioxide, NOx gases and fluoride. It was these pollutants that therefore became the focus of this study. Reservoirs within Richards Bay that may become sinks for contamination were identified and water, sediment and soil samples were taken from these reservoirs. The samples were analysed for trace metal contamination, pH, alkalinity and fluoride levels. Analysis of the acidity and alkalinity of water, sediment and soils samples demonstrated that there is presently no long-term acidification of the environment in Richards Bay. The only samples that showed increased acidity were the soils taken from the roadside sites immediately outside the industries. This lack of overall acidification indicates that, at present, there are no detrimental effects of acidic emissions on the hydrosphere and geosphere. Only cursory investigations were conducted into the fluoride levels found in water samples. None of the samples analysed demonstrated detectable amounts of fluoride present. Comprehensive trace metal analyses were performed on the water, sediment and soil samples through the use of ICP-AES. Levels obtained were compared with levels from samples taken from relatively uncontaminated background sites. Trace metal analysis indicated contamination of the freshwater reservoirs when compared with the background, while the soils and saltwater reservoirs remain largely uncontaminated. However, the contaminated areas did not show levels greater than quality guideline concentrations. Further studies should be conducted with regards to the trace metal contamination of the biosphere and the bioavailability of the contaminants already present in the waters, sediments and soils. More detailed investigations should also be conducted into the levels of atmospheric pollutants and fluoride levels in all reservoirs.