AWRA Water Blog

Impending Water Quality Crisis in South Africa? CSIR Suspends Whistleblower Dr. Tony Turton

I just learned from colleague Aaron Wolf that Dr. Anthony “Tony” Turton, one of the world’s Tony Turton top experts on hydropolitics and transboundary water resources and one of the movers in the Universities Partnership for Transboundary Waters, has been suspended by the Council on Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) after he sounded the alarm on an impending water crisis in South Africa. 

CSIR has no real equivalent agency in the USA but this situation is analogous to the EPA or USGS suspending a top water researcher for whistleblowing.

Turton is a Director of AWRA’s “sister” organization the International Water Resources Organization (IWRA). He also co-edits its journal, Water International.

From Megan Power’s article in The Times, published on 23 November 2008:

The move followed just days after the CSIR barred the top scientist from delivering the keynote address at its biennial conference in Pretoria on Tuesday. The council said certain images and unsubstantiated claims in his presentation had caused concern.

The hard-hitting presentation by Dr Anthony Turton warned of an impending water quality disaster that had the potential to spark public violence.

He included graphic images of service delivery protests and xenophobic violence and asked if such anger could be unleashed in response to deteriorating public health as a result of declining water quality.

“If I’m guilty of anything,” Turton said yesterday, “I’m guilty of being a scientist with a moral conscience. Scientists must be free and independent to raise concerns.”

The story continued:

Five of SA’s major dams, Turton claims, are contaminated with toxin levels that are among the highest in the world. And there is no current engineering solution to the problem.

In his paper, Three Strategic Water Quality Challenges that Decision-makers Need to Know about and how the CSIR Should Respond, Turton said no studies had been done on people exposed to chronic doses of microcystins, a water toxin, and this bordered on the “criminally negligent”.

“We need to know if microcystins are causing human health problems, specifically in communities that are immune-compromised,” he wrote.

Turton’s paper also highlighted a growing antiretroviral load that is passing through people into rivers, entering the population either through the drinking-water stream or through produce irrigated with contaminated water.

Here is Tony’s keynote address, Three Strategic Water Quality Challenges that Decision-Makers Need to Know About and How the CSIR Should Respond:

Download KeynoteAddressCSIR2008

Could Tony’s suspension be politically motivated?

What’s your take?

I’ll keep you informed as I learn more.

[Disclosure notice: Tony is a good friend and colleague with whom I have worked on a few occasions. I have the greatest resepct for his abilities and integrity.]

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” — George Orwell

11 thoughts on “Impending Water Quality Crisis in South Africa? CSIR Suspends Whistleblower Dr. Tony Turton

  1. Nola Dingwall

    Ignore Dr Turton at OUR peril you stupid short-sighted fools!!! As usual, they will wake up when it’s too late.

  2. Sara

    I support Tony’s intention to sound the alarm in regard to impending threats to human health that he feels the government and scientists have a moral obligation to attend to. However, I have seen some of the graphic images he uses in presentations and I think they are totally inappropriate. The images of violence are not related to water but are only used to incite emotion and terror. Honesty, morality, and leadership does not require such gratuitous use of graphic images; the truth in this case will be able to speak for itself and Tony may actually be doing more harm than good.

  3. Dumisani Ntshagase

    I have read Dr Turton’s article and, as a non-natural scientist, tried to grapple with issues that I can understand. In essence, I am not sure what the fuss is. His article is well presented and the argument cleverly crafted. As a Black South Africa, not that is matters, I am not offended by the article but am astonished by his suspension. His suspension is no reflection on the country (as a collective) but squarely on his employers. Good job Tony and hope you return to do what you love most

  4. Jeremy Hawson

    I have known Dr Turton since 1971, both as a friend and as a business partner. Since the early 80’s he has dedicated himself to studying, very often under difficult circumstances, to become one of the world’s leading authorities on water and its influence on people.

    I currently live in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where municipal tap water, if you are lucky enough to have it, is too dangerous and filthy to drink with the result that one has to drink bottled water. This might seem an obvious solution but the resultant pollution and contamination from the empty plastic bottles of rivers and the sea is a disaster in itself.

    So what if Dr Turton uses shock tactics to galvanize fellow lethargic South Africans into action before it is too late. Sara’s comments of “the truth in this case will be able to speak for itself” on this blog flies in the face of this whole issue – someone seems to be trying to hush up the truth, even the Minister has admitted that 60% of municipalities are understaffed in their water departments. What will it take for people to wake up and realise that resources or rather the lack thereof causes friction in society. We South Africans should realise this by now. When the chips are down people will look after their own interests. That is the time when the truth generally emerges but always a little too late for remedy.

    Dr Turton, don’t be put off by this hiccup – you have faced far bigger challenges in your past – and continue your good work that began in the good old days of the Muldersdrift se Loop.

  5. Tommy

    The decision makers should be taking action to see how to resolve the problem and not to suspend a reseacher of Dr Turtons calibre

  6. Abdoul


    My name is Abdoul and I am working at Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders in London. I would like to get in touch as we launch a campaign of appeal to Zimbabwe.

    Indeed cholera has spread all over the country now and Zimbabwe is experiencing an unprecedented outbreak. The situation is even worse for the lack of sanitation and water. There are also concerns with the start of the rainy season and the shortage of drugs.

    We obviously want to spread this message as far as we can and I know that for this particular place, mainstream media isn’t necessarily the place to do that and that the online communities who care about the situation is big and very active. I was basically wondering if you would like to cover this issue on your blog.You can get more information about our involvement in Zimbabwe at

    I apologise for contacting you out of the blue – I found you through various online networks and through your blog itself and I have only contacted you because I thought you might be genuinely interested in this topic.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this far


  7. Pingback: Electronic Petition Supporting Dr. Tony Turton : AWRA Water Blog

  8. Chipo Kaseke

    I am a Zimbabwean and currently I am doing a research at Masters Level on Pollution Chemistry in a University in South Africa. I would want to hear about how far organisations and indiviuals have gone with the issue of Zimbabwe Water Quality. I think there is need for thorough research in order to avoid the same situation in fute.

  9. Jean Rheeder


    I live in Port Elizabeth South Africa and need information on how to test water for salicylates. Any help in this regard will be appreciated. There is a growing rate of ADHD in our city – up to 25% in my child’s class. This along with increased allergies to Ibuprofen, Asprin and Benzoates, salicylates in Germalene etc. I just wanted to test the easiest most common denominator in the city – WATER. The allergic reactions are severe – kidney failure, anaphylatic shock etc.

    All the people concerned have recovered with on going treatment and discontinued use of products. The ADHD rise is also a great concern.

  10. Ulanda

    It chills me to see how this sort of behaviour is covered up globally. The American FDA makes itself guilty of similar intimidation of whistle blowers. Finding clean food and water is already a huge challenge. I go to great lengths to find safe, healthy food for my family (eg. raw milk, organic eggs/meat/veg/fruit etc.) How will we go about finding clean water for drinking and irrigating our vegetable gardens in the future? What is morally reprehensible is that a previously respected organization like the CSIR is allowed to get away with dirty, intimidating behaviour like this! Where do I sign the protest?

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