Durban - EnviroServ Waste Management, which runs the Shongweni landfill site, has reported a case of arson to the police following a fire on the premises.
Smoke from the fire was visible to residents several kilometres away on Friday. A Winston Park resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said she had noticed a pall of black smoke rising from the landfill site about 3.5km away at about 7am.
“I couldn’t smell it from our house, fortunately, because the wind wasn’t blowing our way, but when I drove there it was choking. It was very throat-scratching and my eyes were streaming. It smelled like plastic and rubber,” she said.
She added that the fire had burnt for several hours.
Hillcrest resident Sue Schimper said she had not smelt the fire, although air pollution allegedly emanating from the dump depended on wind direction and was a constant problem for her family. She said she had started to “suffer terribly from asthma”, while her children awoke with headaches.
She said that as a concerned resident she had been attending regular site visits to assess the dump, but these had been hampered due to the lockdown.
EnviroServ Waste Management chief executive Dean Thompson said the fire had started at about 6.10am on the side of Valley 2 in an area separate from the current working area.
“We became aware immediately and began deploying firefighting measures, including reporting the matter to emergency services and the relevant authorities,” he said.
“EThekwini emergency services assisted with the extinguishing of the fire. Once on site, the fire department, together with staff, immediately contained the fire. The fire was extinguished by 10am and all smouldering totally eliminated before 11am,” he said.
Thompson said domestic and general waste had burnt during the fire.
“Our preliminary investigation indicates that it was arson, and a case has been opened with the SAPS,” he said.
Thompson said the firm already had “comprehensive protocols” in place to mitigate against further fires.
“These are being reviewed and will be modified where appropriate. We have already reinforced our existing security and surveillance on site,” Thompson said.
He added that potential emissions from the site were “well controlled and monitored, with stringent oversight by the authorities”.
“The measured hydrogen sulfide concentrations, being of particular relevance, are significantly below World Health Organization guidelines. The continued downward trend in measurements demonstrates that mitigation measures implemented have been very successful,” he said.
Thompson added that monitoring committee meetings had been postponed due to lockdown restrictions, although the firm was still engaging with stakeholders via email and one-on-one meetings.
“A meeting will be held in October and all Covid-19 protocols will be followed. This will be communicated as soon as the date has been finalised,” he said.
Upper Highway residents have complained for years about the odour that they alleged emanated from the landfill site.
EnviroServ’s Thompson, group technical director Esme Gombault, operations manager Clive Kidd and waste disposal specialist Johan Schoonraad recently applied to the Durban Regional Court to have charges of violating environmental and air quality regulations that they are facing for operations at the site set aside.
They are facing charges under the Air Quality Act and the Waste Act relating to an offensive odour that allegedly emanated from the dump between January 2015 and January 2017.
Upper Highway Air, a non-profit organisation that has taken on residents’ concerns about air pollution, has lodged an administrative appeal with the Department of Environmental Affairs opposing its granting of the firm’s licence to operate the site.