A small group of Upper Highway residents held up placards during a “silent protest” at the entrance of the Durban Magistrate’s Court while EnviroServ senior managers appeared on criminal charges. PHOTO: ANA Reporter

DURBAN - Upper Highway residents are crying foul after Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa decided to partially relax the suspension of EnviroServ’s waste management licence for the controversial Shongweni landfill site.

Last week, she granted the company permission to accept, treat and dispose only solid waste that was organic and without sulphur content for a period of six months.

For the past two years, operations at the site have remained a contentious issue between EnviroServ and many residents who alleged that the “toxic” emissions from the high hazardous waste landfill site was making them and their pets ill. Some residents also claimed that the odour levels had not decreased and still affected them.

“I feel let down by the government that is supposed to protect our rights as the citizens over the commercial interests of companies,” said resident Kelvin Botha.

He said Molelwa had been misled by EnviroServ into believing that the remedial and mitigation action on the site had yielded results.

Liv Stevenson from Kloof accused the department of failing the Upper Highway community and suggested that the site should not trade until there were zero odour complaints.

“The DEA (Department of Environmental Affairs) obviously thinks we are making ourselves sick, but we are not and if the site re-opens there will be more health problems. What will they do then?” Stevenson asked.

Changes

Monitoring committee member Grant Hancock said he had not witnessed any changes since the remedial action had been implemented.

However, other committee members, including Vincent Mkhize, Mxolisi Ndlovu and Dumisani Mkhize, said the odour had decreased.

Charmane Nel, the lawyer representing civil group Upper Highway Air (UHA), said her client had concerns that in spite of the department’s appeal and a provision stipulating that it was inappropriate for EnviroServ to address the minister with information outside the appeal process, Molewa had relied on such information without the civil group’s inclusion.

“She appears to have accepted their data in support of the decision, despite recording the challenge to the veracity of the information and in light of Enviroserv reneging on its undertaking to provide monitoring protocols, which would have enabled the DEA and our experts to address the issue of the reliability of the monitoring data,” she said.

Nel said the minister’s decision regarding the partial relaxation of the suspension did not make sense when it acknowledged residents’ continued health and odour complaints.

Department spokesperson Albi Modise said the minister had considered the outcomes of various specialist studies submitted at the time.

“She considered that Enviroserv has shown a significant reduction in H2S (hydrogen sulfide) emissions from the site and based her decision on such scientific evidence,” he said.

The prevention of disposing liquid waste would allow more time for the site to recover from malodorous emission, he said.

“The intention is to closely monitor the site on a monthly basis for six months to determine whether Enviroserv could contain and manage emissions at the site,” said Modise.

Last week, EnviroServ approached the Durban High Court attempting to reverse the interdict that was granted to UHA in April, which enforced Molewa’s suspension. The matter is expected to be heard next month.

Meanwhile, a recently released external waste licence audit report compiled by Monty van Eeden of Dorean Environmental Services on behalf of EnviroServ indicated that H2S levels had decreased from 400 to 4 parts per million. “There was also a drastic reduction in complaints from 239 in November 2016 to 13 in October 2017,” he said.

However the UHA’s website registered more than 8 000 complaints for just October.

During the height of the problem, earlier this year, its website registered more than 10 000 complaints a month, with 20 243 in March.

SUNDAY TRIBUNE