Durban - Despite spending more than R10-million over nine months to resolve a massive stink, Enviroserv’s Shongweni landfill site, which receives vast quantities of “hazardous, not necessarily toxic” waste, faces a shutdown by the Department of Environmental Affairs.
Parties guilty of air pollution emanating from the landfill might also face criminal prosecution.
On the eve of a Toxic Trek protest march in Hillcrest on Saturday, the department gave Enviroserv four days’ notice to make representations as to why the Enviroserv’s licence for its landfill site should not be immediately revoked or suspended pending rehabilitation of the landfill site.
Department spokesperson Albie Modise said the docket containing the results of associated criminal investigations by the Green Scorpions had been referred to the National Prosecuting Authoirty for a decision.
Exactly what hazardous waste has ended up at the landfill site, resulting in Enviroserv recently spending more than R10-million in addressing air-pollution problems, has not yet been disclosed by Enviroserv or authorities.
Handing over a memorandum to Enviroserv at the end of yesterday’s Toxic Trek, Upper Highway Air non-profit organisation representative Lauren Johnson said residents exposed to gases emanating from the landfill had experienced headaches, respiratory illnesses, nosebleeds, sinusitis, new asthma diagnoses, nausea and eczema.
Johnson said these symptoms had been recorded in more than 500 affidavits handed over to the Green Scorpions. She said while residents of middle-class communities in Hillcrest had experienced these symptoms for more than a year, people in the poorer, rural communities of Dassenhoek and KwaNdengezi adjacent to the landfill had suffered the ill effects for 15 years.
Responding to Roving Reporters queries sent earlier in the week, Enviroserv Group chief executive Dean Thompson said these health concerns were unfounded.
“The company runs an intensive employee health programme and despite some staff working at the landfill for up to 20 years, no evidence of any health impacts have been observed,” said Thompson.
“While we admit to contributing to the odour, we are not the only source,” said Thompson.
Waste accepted at the landfill was “hazardous, not necessarily toxic” and included industrial chemicals, condemned foodstuffs, contaminated soils and household waste.
The fact that condemned food and household waste was being disposed of alongside hazardous chemicals has given rise to serious concerns about the poorest of poor people climbing over the landfill’s perimeter fence to scavenge for food, even cooking and selling it on the roadside.
An official from the KZN department of environmental affairs, who asked not be to be named, yesterday confirmed that authorities were aware that scavenging off the landfill had been taking place for several years.
Thompson on Saturday said he was surprised by the Department of Environmental Affairs’ intention to revoke or suspend Enviroserv’s licence. “It is unfortunate that they have succumbed to public opinion and inexplicably deviated from the agreed remedial processes that we have complied with, and will continue to implement,” he said.
“Since we became aware of the odour problem in April 2016 we have spent more than R10-million to resolve the issue.”
He said these measures included covering leachate storage tanks and fitting them with activated carbon-gas extraction and filtration systems and installing real-time air quality monitoring.
On the protestors’ rallying cry, Enviroserv Must Fall, Thompson said no other waste companies could provide a better service.
“Enviroserv operates seven landfill sites around southern Africa and has a 37-year track record of compliance. We are a pioneer in the industry and have the cleanest track record.”
While Upper Highway Air has welcomed action by the authorities, and associated criminal investigations, Johnson said the continued refusal, both by Enviroserv and the authorities, to make a full disclosure of what is going into the landfill and its possible toxic effects, remained a huge public concern.
* This story forms part of the Roving Reporters Thin Green Line series, supported by the Human Elephant Foundation