Durban - Residents living at an upmarket estate in Hillcrest say they are experiencing nausea, headaches and coughing spasms because of “toxic” air from the Shongweni waste disposal facility.

But a resident who lives less than a kilometre from the dump and has been there for 20 years, says he and his family have experienced “no such symptoms” and that the residents of Plantations Estate have “probably not thoroughly investigated” to arrive at the root cause of the stink.

The African News Agency has seen 15 statements from residents who describe the smell from the dump as “pungent”, “chemical” and “foul”.

The reek is not confined to Hillcrest though, with residents from Gillitts to Bothas Hill and Waterfall complaining about a similar stench.

Plantations Estate residents, who have been the most vocal, have accused the owner and operator of the disposal facility – Enviroserv – of willfully not disclosing what chemicals are being dumped there. They say the stench started around June last year and has gradually worsened since January this year.

“Over the past three or four months my family have been coughing, seemed to have developed sinus problems and are all suffering from headaches. We have been totally stumped to what it is,” said resident Lauren Johnson.

“I have taken my daughters to the doctors, who keep telling us they are not sick. Only recently have I realised that these issues started around the same time that we started smelling this putrid smell at home,” she said.

Another resident, Karen Norman-Smith, said that when the “offensive odour” was around, “one has to close all windows and doors, yet the smell permeates into our homes”.

Norman-Smith said she believed Enviroserv knew “exactly what toxic waste was being dumped at the landfill site, and that they were not following full procedure with the landfill to cut costs”.

According to Enviroserv’s site manager, Clive Kidd, the site is licensed to receive “a wide range of waste streams, including industrial chemicals, condemned foodstuffs, contaminated soil and general household waste”.

He said that some of the “more challenging” waste received in recent months included expired food waste and contaminated soil. Kidd said that while the site did not accept medical waste, it did accept “residues” from a licensed medical waste treatment facility, and that this had been classified as “general waste”.

“All incoming wastes are analysed and pre-treated prior to disposal if so required to ensure that there are no harmful chemical reactions during disposal. From time to time, we do have problems with fugitive emissions generated by the site, but never at a level that would cause health or environmental concerns,” he said.

In a statement sent to residents of Plantations last week, Kidd said there was a “possibility” that its site could be responsible for the odours.

“As our facility is licensed to receive both hazardous and general waste streams, we acknowledge the possibility that odours from the site could be migrating into neighbouring communities. This could be due to the calm weather conditions and inversion layers experienced in the region at this time of the year. The reported odours could also be attributed to a number of other sources in the area who [operate in] similar conditions,” said Kidd.

He said that Geozone, an “independent specialist” working on behalf of the Shongweni air quality management programme, placed an air quality monitoring station in Plantations on April 4. The sampling filters were removed about 15 days later for analysis.

This was one of many such sampling devices that would be erected to ascertain the root cause of the odours.

“We have agreed with the residents of the estate to convene a meeting as soon as the initial results [from Geozone] are available, where the independent experts will present their findings,” he said.

The dump’s closest neighbour, Dave Smith, who lives on a freestanding property less than a kilometre from the site, said that other industries in the area closer to Plantations needed to be “investigated” for the “pungent” smells experienced by Plantations’ residents.

Smith is part of the Shongweni air quality monitoring programme committee – the programme has been running for 12 years – and says that Enviroserv was “hammered” by the committee if they did anything wrong.

“If I have had to phone the site to complain in the last two years, it is a lot,” he said, “and being so close to the site, my family and I should also be affected, but we are not”.

Smith said that sometimes there would be a smell from the site, but that this was leachate, a by-product of captured seepage. He said that Enviroserv had “complied with any request the monitoring committee had made”.

While the eThekwini Municipality has acknowledged that there has been a “significant” increase in the number of air quality complaints in the area, they have also said that the bulk of the complaints had been lodged “directly with the suspected parties”, without naming those suspected parties.