Waste firm in a fix over 'toxic fumes'
Durban - The Department of Environmental Affairs’ environmental management inspectorate, known as the Green Scorpions, is investigating EnviroServ’s Shongweni landfill.
This comes after the department’s deputy director-general of chemical and waste management, Mark Gordon, told residents at an emergency monitoring committee meeting on September 1 that more than 300 complaints about smell had been logged on the department’s website in one week in August.
Residents of Hillcrest, Shongweni, Waterfall, KwaNdengezi and Dassenhoek have reported asthma, nausea, vomiting and bronchitis since January which they attributed to “toxic fumes” from the waste management company's landfill site.
On Friday night, Hillcrest residents reported some of those symptoms to Environmental Affairs.
Speaking at a community meeting in Merebank, south of Durban, on Thursday, which was attended by eThekwini Municipality officials, the Department of Water Affairs and community and environmental groups, Desmond D’Sa of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance said the Green Scorpions had told him they would launch an investigation.
The Sunday Tribune is in possession of correspondence between D’Sa and Marie-Louise Lume of the inspectorate confirming the investigation.
Lume did not want to comment, but department spokesman Albie Modise said: “We are dealing with this matter. We have visited the areas.”
Merebank’s forum was convened and chaired by D’Sa after Gordon revealed at the meeting on September 1 that EnviroServ had been instructed to get rid of all stored leachate and contaminated storm water from its Shongweni site.
Leachate is a by-product of the waste disposal process and is stored in tanks at the Shongweni site.
Following complaints, studies conducted by two companies, at EnviroServ’s expense, found that gaseous emissions were emanating from the leachate.
EnviroServ chief executive Dean Thompson said the tanks were being covered as instructed.
Gordon said the company had been granted a temporary permit by eThekwini’s pollution and environment unit to expel the effluent through its southern sewerage system and then offshore at Cuttings Beach, Merebank, a popular fishing beach.
Thompson said EnviroServ was “sending 8 500 cubic metres of leachate and 17 500 cubic metres of contaminated stormwater for disposal”.
D’Sa has been working with the Hillcrest and Merebank communities to have the Shongweni landfill closed.
He called for an independent investigation into the effects the landfill has had on groundwater and residents' health, while demanding the public be informed about the site’s waste character.
Shongweni landfill is classified as an H:h site and is licensed to accept hazardous waste. It was instructed to suspend this activity in August and Gordon confirmed the company had complied.
Chris Fennimore, senior manager at eThekwini’s pollution and environment unit, said at the Merebank meeting the leachate was tested and diluted before being discharged “using mostly hydrogen peroxide”.
Fennimore said the leachate was discharged 4km out to sea and 60m below sea level.
The city confirmed EnviroServ had been issued five R1 000 admission of guilt fines - three in 2013 and two this year - for transgressing sewage disposal by-laws. Rico Euripidou of environmental action group groundWork, said of the disposal at sea: “The leachate will contain traces of toxic waste. Any mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead or other substance toxic to the environment will bio-accumulate in fish and the marine ecology and come back to us,” he said.
EnviroServ has has denied liability for any health issues allegedly connected to the odours.