Current Projects

 Climate and Health

The increased frequency and intensity of weather events associated with climate change, is expected to pose the highest risks in settings of under-development, such as informal settlements or areas with poor quality formal housing. To investigate the risks and adaptation measures that may protect and promote the health of vulnerable South African communities, the E&HRU has embarked on a portfolio of climate and health research projects:

Heat and Health

Seed funding has been awarded to the Unit through the MRC Flagship programme to start looking at heat related risks to health in small and medium sized towns in South Africa. The work will include the identification of towns at particular risk of heat waves, investigating current heat coping mechanisms and an examination of the relationship between heat waves and hospital admissions.

Infectious Diseases Early Warning System (iDEWS)

The Unit has joined a consortium of institutions to examine the utility of weather based early warning systems. In particulare the SAMRC is lookin to reduce levels of malaria, diarrhoeal disease and pneumonia following adverse weather events (high precipitation, heat waves and very cold spells).

Sandstorms

Major dust storms are set to become a more frequent occurrence in communities and settings unaccustomed to dust storms, public awareness of the actions needed to protect health during dust storms may be low. The aim of the study project is to investigate whether the major South African dust storm result in elevated hospital visits.

Housing interventions
The Unit is conducting an independent assessment to determine the impacts of Air Quality Offset Interventions on human health in low-income communities.
 

Mining and Health

The operation of mines, as well as the period after closure, may potentially cause exposure in downstream communities, to a range of hazardous substances, including, dust and particulate matter, toxic metals (such as lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium) and radiation.

The Unit has been building a partnership of researchers and stakeholders, to further investigate the health implications of living close to or downstream from mining land. Earlier work demonstrated elevated blood lead concentrations in children living in the mining town of Aggeneys in the Northern Cape and elevated metal concentrations in vegetables harvested from a school vegetable gardens located in close proximity to a mine dump.

Exposure to hazardous substances stemming from mining activities on downstream communities

Pilot research projects are currently underway to determine the toxic metal content of soil collected from the gardens in settlements near mine tailings dump, and to prepare for a larger study on exposure to uranium, lead and radon around mining land.

Mining intervention study

Mine tailings facilities are major generators of wind-blown dust and one of the main sources of air pollution with potential adverse health implications for nearby communities. Dust exposure may be high, especially during windy conditions, as well as during the dry season when vegetative cover is low, and during periods of re-processing of mine dumps to extract residual gold. Two strategies are sometimes implemented to reduce pollution from mine tailings dumps:  spraying of mine tailings facilities with water and rehabilitation through planting grass. However, these strategies have often been shown to be ineffective, since grass withers during the dry season in particular, and sprayed water is rapidly absorbed or evaporated. This study aims to educate selected communities located near mine dumps about associated pollutants, possible health effects, and the potential pathways of exposure. The study will also seek to reduce mining dust exposure through the implementation of exposure reduction intervention related to personal and domestic hygienes.

Lead poisoning prevention

The E&HRU continues to study a range of sources of lead exposure in the South African public: in recent years these have included the use and smelting of lead in subsistence fishing communities and users of arms and ammunition in shooting ranges and traditional medicines. Currently the team is studying lead exposure in communities living close to mine tailings facilities, and to exposure to lead and other toxic metals through the use of artisanal cookware and ceramicware.

Lead exposure through the  manufacturing and use of artisanal cookware

Lead exposure in communities living close to mine tailings facilities

 

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