DURBAN - The eThekwini Municipality has granted EnviroServ a provisional permit to discharge treated contaminated stormwater from its Shongweni hazardous waste landfill site into the Southern Waste Water Treatment Works (SWWTW) near Merewent, south of Durban.
eThekwini spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said the permit was granted “as an emergency measure in light of the storm and flooding experienced” earlier this month.
“The permit is different from the previous one as it is not for leachate but for contaminated stormwater only. EnviroServ is required to produce a compliance certificate prior to discharge that ensured compliance with schedule B of the eThekwini Sewage Disposal By-laws and Coastal Water Discharge Permit.
“Toxicity tests are carried out by an independent laboratory on every batch of stormwater to be discharged at the treatment works and the results are submitted to eThekwini prior to discharge. Further tests relating to pH, sulphide, conductivity and temperature are also required."
In September last year, the city stopped the company from using the site for disposal of leachate and contaminated stormwater on the basis that samples taken from liquid presented by EnviroServ for discharge exceeded the toxicity levels permitted by the law.
EnviroServ challenged that decision with the argument that the contaminated stormwater met the requirements of sewage disposal by-laws. Therefore, it should be allowed to use the SWWTW’s 4km-long pipeline that pumps effluent water 60m below sea level at Cuttings Beach.
Leachate is the by-product when rain percolates through decomposing waste on a landfill site, while contaminated stormwater is mostly rain water that has mixed with waste on a landfill site.
In April, EnviroServ made an urgent application to eThekwini saying the build-up of the contaminated liquids was “about to result in an environmental disaster” as it was only able to take leachate to its Holfontein site in Johannesburg.
In June, EnviroServ asked the Gauteng High Court to review and set aside the failure of eThekwini to approve its use of the SWWTW, but the city asked for the matter to be set aside while it dealt with April’s application.
Environmentalist Desmond D’Sa, who objected to Enviro-Serv’s initial application, said this week that he was shocked at eThekwini’s latest decision.
“We are going to fight this; eThekwini was in the right by refusing EnviroServ the discharge permit and they should have stuck to their initial decision,” he said.
D’Sa said it was sad that Cuttings Beach had been turned into a dumping ground for toxic liquid waste.
“There are people whose livelihoods depend on fishing and their health is being compromised by the dumping."
EnviroServ’s Thabiso Taaka said it was sending three truckloads of treated contaminated stormwater a day to the SWWTW.
“EnviroServ’s discharge permit imposes strict quality standards on the treated contaminated stormwater delivered to the Southern Waste Water Treatment Works. These same quality standards apply to all the users of this service,” Taaka said.
He said EnviroServ was not aware of the grounds on which a review of eThekwini’s decision to issue the permit may be sought by those who were against the granting of the permit.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, the Durban High Court ruled in favour of civil group, the Upper Highway Air (UHA), enforcing the Department of Environmental Affairs’ decision to suspend all operations on the site, including treating and disposing of any waste, including the leachate.
Remedial and mediation work is under way on site but the UHA alleged that it has not addressed the odour problems that led to suspension of operations.
Last week, the UHA returned to the high court accusing EnviroServ of hijacking the monitoring committee and bribing community members to vote in its favour during meetings.
“EnviroServ denies that it has been party to bribery of community members. We encourage anyone who has evidence that this has occurred, to report to the law enforcement authorities,” said Taaka.