The liquid, called leachate, drains from a landfill. It has to be carefully managed because it can contaminate the environment.
EnviroServ, the company that manages the Shongweni landfill, confirmed it had asked for permission from eThekwini Municipality to use the Southern Wastewater Works near Merewent to dispose of the leachate. The works has a 4km-long pipeline that pumps effluent water 60m below sea level at Cuttings Beach.
It had a permit to do this but this was withdrawn in October last year.
It is believed that it was because some of this leachate, turned away at the Southern Wastewater Works for being too toxic for the sea, was returned to the site that the smell began to impact residents in the Upper Highway area.
Although it has been difficult to see what is going on within the site, it is understood that the leachate, when dumped with other toxic liquids in an area known as Valley 2 at Shongweni, reacted. This then caused the foul chemical smell that has hung over the region for months. All this, however, has been denied by Enviroserv in court.
The company claims someone else is responsible for the smell but it is yet to prove this in court.
Lawyer for the Upper Highway Air, Charmane Nel, said that in October EnviroServ had 26 million litres of leachate it needed to get rid of and that this was at Shongweni.
Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) spokesperson Albi Modise said the company would not be permitted to pump into the sea as it needed to “make significant and meaningful progress towards the resolution of issues contributing to off-site impacts (the Shongweni smell)”.
EnviroServ’s group chief executive Dean Thompson said the company had complied with the acceptable disposal standards set by government and had never dumped toxic waste water into the ocean as alleged.
Thompson also disputed that the leachate was “highly toxic” when taken to the waste water works.
“The leachate is first treated on site and our effluent treatment plant is fully operational and can treat it.”
Tozi Mthethwa, eThekwini Municipality’s spokesperson, did not respond to questions about whether or not eThekwini would reinstate EnviroServ’s discharge licence. However it was she who confirmed that the company was now transporting the leachate to Gauteng.
The only other landfill that accepts hazardous waste in KwaZulu-Natal is the Dolphin Coast Landfill Management site, outside Stanger.
The only solution for EnviroServ was to use its own Holfontein site near Randfontein, on the West Rand, to get rid of the leachate.
Last month, the DEA suspended acceptance, treatment and disposal of waste at the Shongweni landfill.
Modise said despite many interventions implemented by Enviro-Serv to comply with its demands, there was still an unacceptably high level of gases coming from the site “which the authorities have confirmed to be the source of the malodour emanating from the site”.
“The decision to suspend the waste management licence is therefore one of the significant steps to a permanent solution to this catastrophic situation,” he said
He said that it was the department’s view that there was a potential threat to human health and the environment resulting from the operations at the site.
EnviroServ has claimed there was another source of air pollution in the area.
In an angry e-mail to eThekwini’s environmental health unit UHA’s lawyer, Nel, said she would apply for a court interdict against the city if it renewed Enviroserv’s discharge licence for the sea.
“eThekwini is well aware, based on EnviroServ’s own technical reports served on it in our client’s urgent application, that the leachate is up to five times over the toxicity limits, hence the (original) necessity to have it disposed of back into valley 2. And, now that this is no longer permitted, via a proper licensed facility.
“The (recent) urgent application by Upper Highway Air (UHA) was precisely to stop the pollution being caused by EnviroServ arising from its Shongweni operations.
“It cannot be allowed to simply pollute the environment further because it is too profit driven to implement remedial measures lawfully,” Nel said.
Last month, UHA was granted an interim interdict in their ongoing fight to get the landfill permanently shut.
Tomorrow, the parties are back in court where the applicant, UHA, will ask for an extension to file supplementary affidavits based on what they manage to uncover from EnviroServ’s toxicology report which they received last week.
“Our experts are still going through the report and it would not be fair to start throwing accusations in the media until they have studied it fully,” Nel said.
Thompson, however, was confident that the report would exonerate EnviroServ as it “points to no serious health impacts for the community from any gas emanating from the Shongweni landfill”.