Author(s): J. Teare, N. Naicker, C. Swanepoel, R. Street, A. Mathee.

Source: S Afr Med J 2021;111(1):33-39.


Background: Many impoverished communities in South Africa (SA) simultaneously face multiple preventable socio-environmental hazards associated with elevated burdens of ill health. One such hazard is failure to institute effective buffer zones between human settlements and point sources of pollution such as airports and industrial zones.

Objectives: To gather information on living conditions, housing quality and health status in two poor communities in the SA coastal industrial city of Port Elizabeth.

Methods: The study was undertaken in Walmer Township, situated in close proximity to Port Elizabeth International Airport, and Wells Estate, which borders two industrial sites. Approximately 120 households were randomly selected from each study site. Following written informed consent, information on the neighbourhood environment and housing conditions was collected through administration of a structured questionnaire.

Results: The two study sites were similar in respect of household language, income, education, high levels of debt servicing and high reliance on social grants. Relative to Walmer Township, higher levels of indoor dust and bad odours in the neighbourhood were reported in Wells Estate, as were higher rates of selected respiratory ill-health symptoms. Upper respiratory tract symptoms were significantly associated with reports of high levels of indoor dust, while lower respiratory tract symptoms were significantly associated with low income, overcrowding, and having a young child in the household.

Conclusions: The study highlights a scenario of a triple environmental hazard to health in the study communities: (i) poverty; (ii) poor quality housing; and (iii) lack of an effective buffer zone between the study communities and local point sources of pollution. Respiratory ill-health conditions were significantly associated with poverty, household composition and living conditions.