11 August 2023 | Story Andre Damons | Photo Kaleidoscope
Drs Marinda Avenant, Programme Director at Centre for Environmental Management (CEM), Tascha Vos (CEM), Hilmar Börnick and Dirk Jungmann with the new equipment.
Drs Dirk Jungmann (Technical University of Dresden), Tascha Vos (Centre for Environmental Management), Hilmar Börnick (Technical University of Dresden) and Marinda Avenant (Centre for Environmental Management).

New equipment donated by a long-time international collaborator will not only assist the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Centre for Environmental Management (CEM) to strengthen the education of postgraduate students but will also enable the centre to apply advanced methods for hazard identification in water quality assessments.

The equipment, which is used for purifying and concentrating water samples through a solid-phase-extraction process, was donated by the Technical University of Dresden (TU Dresden) in Germany. Solid-phase-extraction allows researchers to reduce the volume of water samples, which are heavy and voluminous to transport, to a concentrated solid substance that can easily be stored and transported in small cartridges. The concentrated solid retains the compounds present in the original water samples. These compounds can later be recovered from the solid substance, by adding an appropriate solvent, and analysed in a laboratory. 

Sampling water 

Dr Marinda Avenant, Programme Director at CEM, says the equipment was immediately put to use after arriving in South Africa last month when scientists from the CEM and TU Dresden conducted water quality and biomonitoring sampling in the streams around Phuthaditjhaba.

The sampling followed wet season sampling that was conducted in March 2022 as part of a three-year research project, funded by the Water Research Commission, investigating the threats of extreme weather events to the resilience of communities in Qwaqwa. Drs Dirk Jungmann and Hilmar Börnick, environmental scientists from TU Dresden, who focus on novel methods in hazard identification in water, collaborated on the research project led by Dr Avenant.

According to her, they have already trained two UFS scientists, Ngitheni Nyoka from Qwaqwa Campus and Dr Tascha Vos from the Bloemfontein Campus, to work with the new equipment and apply this method in the future.

Water quality poses health risk

Dr Avenant says they are testing Qwaqwa’s water as the area has been suffering from poor water service delivery for more than 10 years. “During disruptions, many people are relying on water from the local streams, which have showed to be highly polluted, especially in the lower reaches flowing through the more densely populated areas. The poor water quality poses a high risk to the health of local communities in Qwaqwa,” she says.

According to her, this study was the first to detect and confirm the presence of organic micropollutants such as sulfamethoxazole, Bisphenol-4, ibuprofen, carbamazepine, atenolol, nevirapine, efavirenz (or its metabolite 8-OH-efavirenz), and the classical indicator of human impact, caffeine, in the catchment.

“The data showed that the lower Mphukojwane and Elands rivers were the most affected, with the substances being present in the low to medium range. This study was also the first to conduct a series of in vitro biotests in the catchment. These tests indicated elevated estrogenic activity in the middle Mphukojwane and Elands rivers, as well as highly increased activity of aryl-hydrocarbon in the Elands River, which can induce inflammatory responses upon exposure and may lead to chronic inflammatory diseases, including asthma, cardiovascular diseases, and increased cancer risk,” she says. 

Dr Jungmann, who is also a research fellow at CEM, says the next sampling campaign is planned for early 2024 carried out by UFS. The method enables CEM to apply advanced methods for hazard identification in water quality assessments and strengthens the training of postgraduate students in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. The collaboration with the Department of Hydrosciences at the TU Dresden, can be intensified as the planning and execution of sampling campaigns are now much easier. 


The collaboration between the UFS and TU Dresden started in 2009, when Prof Andries Jordaan, previous director from the UFS Disaster Management Training and Education Centre for Africa (DiMTEC), visited Dresden for a workshop and met Dr Jungmann. They had an intense discussion about water issues, which was followed by an intensive exchange and participation in conferences and workshops at the UFS, as well as at TU Dresden. Profs Maitland Seaman, former Director of the CEM, and Danie Vermeulen, Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, were part of a delegation to TUD, which culminated in student exchange, funded by the German DAAD, between the UFS and TUD. Dr Marinda Avenant, whom served as Acting Director after Prof Seaman’s retirement, continued the close collaboration between the CEM and TUD until present. 

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