Funeral parlours, service stations, fuel holding depots and food processing plants yesterday admitted to dumping waste in drinking water systems countrywide and asked Government to give them time to institute measures to stop the pollution. Experts have linked the pollutants in water to the incidence of cancer in adults and the fatal heart condition called "blue baby" syndrome (or methemoglobinemia) in newborns.
The firms' representatives said this in a meeting with a Government committee established in line with the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset) to probe causes of water pollution and raw sewage disposal and to rectify the situation.
The meeting between the committee, the companies and local authorities was to find ways of reducing water pollution.
The committee gave the companies a four-week deadline to install waste interceptors and pre-treatment plants to prevent discharge of raw effluent into water bodies', failure of which they will face closure and hefty fines from the Environmental Management Agency.
But the companies and local authorities took a swipe at EMA for fining them without providing solutions.
Zimbabwe Phosphate Company general manager Mr Tapuwa Mashingaidze conceded that they were regarded among the major polluters and were working on reducing levels of pollution.
"Although we have done much work on the ground, we need a more realistic timeframe for a huge place like Zimphos," he said.
Mr Mashingaidze said the liquidity crunch was hurting Zimpos, hence the reequest for more time to address the problem.
Ruwa Local Board chairman Mr Pinias Mushayavanhu said EMA was obsessed with enforcing punitive measures on offenders without helping address challenges faced by local authorities.
"They say continue to pollute and we will fine you," he said. "They do not want to sit down with us and find ways of addressing the problem. Right now we do not have anywhere to dispose our refuse."
Other companies represented at the meeting were Delta Beverages, Chibuku, Nyaradzo Funeral Services, Lyons Maid, Colcom, Olivine and Innscor.
Harare Metropolitan Minister of State Miriam Chikukwa and Harare town clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi were also present.
Minister Chikukwa said all polluters should immediately take remedial action, while Dr Mahachi said councils and environmental authorities should work together to ensure companies complied with regulations contained in the EMA and Urban and Local Authorities Acts.
EMA representative Ms Petronella Shoko said solid waste pollution had to be addressed, adding that some chemicals used in tanneries exposed residents to cancer if not properly managed.
Harare provincial administrator Mr Alfred Tome took a swipe at mayors and chairpersons of councils and local boards for politicking instead of providing service delivery.
Government's Zim-Asset Cluster on Infrastructure and Utilities empasises the need for robust, elaborate and resilient water and sanitation infrastructure for economic growth.