The Shongweni landfill, showing the sulphur ash which many residents believe is causing their sore eyes, headaches and the smells emanating from the dump.
Durban – Residents of Hillcrest, Shongweni, Kloof, Dassenhoek and surrounding neighbourhoods have lodged a Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) application to find out exactly what hazardous waste is being dumped and how it is being treated at EnviroServ’s Shongweni landfill site, which they allege is causing a noxious odour affecting their health.

Lauren Johnson, director of Upper Highway Air, an NPO residents formed to tackle the odour, said there had been a “complete breakdown of trust” between residents and EnviroServ, which she alleged had refused to provide residents with information about how it was accepting and processing hazardous waste at the site.

Johnson and other residents have alleged that their – and especially their children’s health – has been negatively impacted by the stench, with many voicing concerns about children battling to breath, nose bleeds and constantly getting sick, via the Facebook Page “What’s that Smell?”

About 1000 residents attended a meeting held by the NPO in Kloof on Tuesday night to announce a protest March in Hillcrest on February 4.

EnviroServ has repeatedly denied it is the sole cause of the smell and pointed fingers at other businesses in Shongweni and Giba Industrial Park.

The Environmental Affairs Department investigated the site and issued a compliance notice on October 21, ordering EnviroServ to halt the disposal of certain kinds of waste, and to treat and dispose of all leachate and contaminated stormwater on and off-site.

The company was ordered to commission specialist and technical studies.

EnviroServ objected on November 21 and applied for a suspension of the notice saying it had made a concerted effort to address the complaints.

Upper Highway Air attorney Charmane Nel said her client had filed a Paia application on January 13 after efforts to informally obtain documents from the company had failed.

The NPO also applied for documents from Environmental Affairs. In terms of Paia the company has 30 days to respond.

Asked whether EnviroServ had complied with the Paia request, group chief executive Dean Thompson said the company had “made available information, however we have not distributed commercially sensitive and confidential information. We continue to operate a compliant and legal site, and scientific evidence has begun to show that our extensive remedial actions to reduce our contribution to the odour has shown improvement."

“We are taking the issue very seriously. We established a Working Group which resulted in the commissioning of two separate specialist investigations.”

However, Thomson said residents had rejected the findings and the group was disbanded.

“The Department of Environmental Affairs has confirmed they are investigating other contributors, in line with what our independent complaints analysis reveals,” he said.

Thomson said EnviroServ had engaged with Upper Highway Air and its lawyer and asked for a meeting but the NPO had declined.

However, Nel on Tuesday night denied that her client had refused to meet the company.

“They have not responded to our Paia request. I would love for ES to provide proof of their responses to us. I have asked DEA to advise who the other contributors are. They have not pointed to anyone and confirm the smell impact is coming from EnviroServ,” she said.

Durban South Community Environmental Alliance spokesperson Desmond D’Sa said the landfill site should not have been located so close to the residential area.

“Some very nasty and toxic chemicals and waste coming out of petrochemical plants in South Durban is dumped there. I visited the site on a few occasions and the smell is awful. The health of the majority of the children there has been affected,” he said.

KZN Department of Economic Development, Agriculture and Environmental Affairs spokesperson Siyabonga Maphumulo referred questions to Environmental Affairs which had not responded to them at the time of going to print on Tuesday night.

The Mercury