Durban - The environmental affairs department says it is not opposed to fining or taking legal action against a multi­national company’s Durban-based operation accused of releasing “toxic air” into the community.

The department visited waste disposal powerhouse EnviroServ at its landfill site in Shongweni twice in the past month.

There had been hundreds of complaints since January from residents in Hillcrest, Waterfall, Gillitts and surrounds, who accused the company of releasing toxic odours into the area that allegedly caused ­several residents to take ill.

Department spokesman Albi Modise said: “The environmental affairs department is exploring its options in terms of determining the best way to move forward on this issue. At this stage the department is not excluding enforcement action against ­EnviroServ.”

Modise said EnviroServ had shown “general compliance” in the past at its Shongweni landfill, but the company’s licence would be reviewed.

“The licence will be reviewed in terms of continual improvement of environmen­tal performance of the site, and subject to progress with the current set of instructions.”

Modise said a number of instructions had been issued to EnviroServ to deal with the potential sources of odours and the manner in which the site was managed.

“(This includes) temporary suspension of hazardous waste disposal for a period of two weeks, while other potentially problematic sources of malodour or noxious emissions are identified; the management of leachate; a stakeholder management plan; toxicological assessment; full site technical assessment to address various engineering aspects; and an urgent environmental monitoring committee meeting to formally convene and report to stakeholders and the community.”

Modise said a full report on the Shongweni landfill would be tabled at an environmental monitoring committee meeting next week.

EnviroServ’s initial internal findings from air monitoring carried out in April indicated the company was probably not responsible for the odours, but those results and the methods used to obtain them were slammed as “junk science” by environmentalists and residents at a heated community meeting.

Subsequent pressure from the community – in particular residents of upmarket Plantations Estate – led to a working committee being formed, comprising residents, EnviroServ management and specialist long-term contractors to EnviroServ.

But additional community pressure led to an independent specialist being hired to monitor air quality in the area. The residents chose the specialist and EnviroServ footed the bill, at the residents’ request.

After additional testing by the independent specialist, with EnviroServ’s contractor, it was found a leak in a leachate tank had contributed to the odour in the area.

EnviroServ subsequently apologised for any “inconvenience” it had caused and said although it was committed to resolving the problem, it did not believe it was the sole contributor to the odours. African News Agency