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SEWAGE PLANT TRAGEDY

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SCENE OF TRAGEDY: Seen here are medical, police and fire officials hoisting the bodies out of the pump station.

TOXICOLOGY reports have indicated that the five Sol Plaatje workers who drowned in rising sludge at the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Plant in 2012, succumbed to hydrogen sulphide and not methane gas, as was originally believed.

The toxicology and post-mortem results into the death of the workers – Joey Reid, Pule Bosman, Clement Mokae, Raymond Newman and Neville Kock – were handed in as part of the inquest into their deaths yesterday.

An expert will be called to testify in the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court, to give evidence on these reports.

The court was yesterday also informed that the valves of the pump station could not be secured as the chain and padlocks had disappeared.

The former controller of the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Plant, Trevor Naidu, said that the pump station was malfunctioning on the day of the incident and described the last, desperate moments when he attempted to rescue his colleagues who had disappeared under the raw sewage.

Naidu said that on the day he had noticed a pungent sewage smell, which pointed to a blockage in one of the pumps.

In statements handed to the court, Naidoo indicated that he had shut all the valves.

“Over the years the chain and padlock used to secure the valves during a lock-up procedure disappeared. It boils down to negligence because I personally requested the authorities to replace it.

“No one would have been able to open the valves if the proper equipment was in place.”

Naidu admitted that looking back on that fateful day, the disaster that ensued was far worse than he had anticipated.

“Reid was in a state of shock when he reported that the pump station was overflowing. I advised him that I would accept responsibility for it.

“We were admonished that we would be fired if the pumps ever overflowed or if the pumps burnt. I had to get everyone out of the pump house with a sense of urgency.”

Naidu indicated that he could not immediately investigate the cause of the blockage on the day of the incident, as he had to take visitors around the plant.

“Usually the valves are closed to allow workers to locate and clear any blockages such as condoms, papers or sanitary pads. Thereafter the pumps are cleaned to prevent the sludge from seeping through. The plant can function if there is a blockage as there is a standby pump.”

He said that he had given permission to Joey Reid and his son, Thurlow Naidoo, to go on lunch as there was nothing that could be done about the overflowing pump station.

“Usually the level of the sludge subsides after about 30 minutes. I was not certain if the inspection valve was faulty and I did not want to take any chances.”

Naidu said he also adjourned for a lunch break, but he was concerned that Reid and his son were worried about the condition of the pump station and would try to fix the problem.

Lifeless

He said that he found Reid’s lifeless body inside the pump station, after having launched a search for him at the plant.

“I was about to call emergency services when my son alerted me that two more workers had fallen into the sludge. Bosman was inside the pump station and fell in. I tried to prevent Newman from falling in but he told me that he was dizzy and there was blood oozing out of his nose before he fell in.

“I could not enter as the sludge had risen to the stairs and I would have slipped. My left foot got stuck between the wall and the stairs of the ladder and I did not want my son to see that I was struggling. My son warned me about the toxic gas and told me to get out.”

Naidu stated that he was helpless in trying to save his colleagues.

“There was absolutely nothing that I could do about the danger that had unfolded. The sludge was so high that if I went down I would have endangered myself. I had no idea where the sludge was coming from or why the pumps were not working.”