Nico Vermeulen on site. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng
Nico Vermeulen on site. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

DEA denies change in law led to odour at EnviroServ site

By Nokuthula Ntuli Time of article published Jul 2, 2017

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DURBAN:While EnviroServ acknowledges its Shongweni landfill site is a contributor to malodour, it blames the 2013 change in waste disposal regulation, which resulted in thousands of complaints from Upper Highway residents.“Our investigations indicate we now have sulphur-reducing bacterial activity which we believe is a consequence of the pH, which dropped after we started doing things according to the new regulation. But the department does not agree with us,” said treatment and disposal specialist Dr Johan Schoonraad.

In August 2013, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) instituted a new regulation which lowered the requisite pH level for disposing of waste, he said. Before December that year, EnviroServ used to douse the waste with lime to raise the pH levels to between 6 and 12, he said.

“We don’t blame the DEA because we were all consulted before the change of regulation but no one anticipated this kind of reaction. We all need to admit we adopted legislation with a flaw. It needs to be corrected before other landfills suffer the same fate.”

Communities living around the landfill allege the “toxic fumes” were making them and their pets ill, which EnviroServ has repeatedly disputes.

As a result of the mounting public complaints, the DEA in April suspended operations. This was also enforced by a Durban High Court order which was granted to the civil group, Upper Highway Air. 

On Thursday, the Sunday Tribune was given an exclusive tour of the landfill where remedial and mitigation work was under way.

It was bustling with workers on the micro-encapsulation of stormwater and building the capping. 

“Our site never had problems when we had a high pH. To remediate what is happening, is that we need to get good bacteria to generate methane,” said EnviroServ’s group operations director Nico Vermeulen.

He said because of the suspension, it was faced with the challenge of having to tanker leachate to Gauteng as it cannot put it back onto the site. 

He also expressed concerns over the large quantities of storm water on site which EnviroServ previously discharged at Cuttings Beach before eThekwini revoked its permission last year.

“Because of what we’ve experienced here, we’ve decided it’s better to go back to the old way of disposing of waste in all our landfills, so we are using lime to raise the pH level,” said Schoonraad.”

A recent community health risk assessment commissioned by EnviroServ alleged sulphur-dioxide (S02) was another contributor to the odorous problem but the culprit is said to be around KwaNdengezi township and not Shongweni. 

“We are hoping the DEA will investigate this further because SO2 is not formed at the landfill as there are no combustion activities. But its health impacts are similar to some that have been reported, like asthma and sore throats.”

Environmentalist Desmond D’sa said South Africa needed stricter laws to regulate the waste management industry because “some companies are getting away with murder, with no accountability.”

“We should be looking at ways to reduce waste otherwise companies like EnviroServ will always find excuses and then blame the government for deliberately doing something they knew was wrong.”

D’sa said the DEA would not have instituted criminal proceedings against EnviroServ in February if it was its own regulation that was to blame for the “disaster” at Shongweni.

DEA spokesperson Albi Modise said the odour was caused by poor management exacerbated by overloading which promoted the growth of sulphur-reducing bacteria.

“It is not true the regulations caused the drop in pH. All landfill sites are bound by conditions of their licence and any deviation or non-compliance like that described above could result in malodour.” 

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