ENVIROSERV chief executive Dean Thompson leaving Durban Magistrate court. Picture: DOCTOR NGCOBO/Independent Media

DURBAN – COMMUNITY organisation Upper Highway Air wants to know what EnviroServ is hiding after its Promotion of Access to Information Act request for raw data was denied by the company managing the Shongweni landfill waste streams.

After the public outcry over the stench emanating from the hazardous waste landfill in Shongweni, Upper Highway Air wanted information from EnviroServ so that its own experts could analyse it.

This comes after members of the community group, who come from surrounding neighbourhoods, felt that EnviroServ was withholding the truth about waste being treated and processed on the site.

While the odour is a nuisance, residents say they are more concerned about the impact on their health. To date EnviroServ has denied that any fumes being emitted from the site have caused sore throats and respiratory problems.

“We want to know exactly what is in that stench because by denying Upper Highway Air the information, they are essentially denying us the remedy to make our children better,” said Hillcrest resident Vanessa Cook.

Upper Highway Air director Lauren Johnson said EnviroServ had said the information would not be made available because it could be used to incriminate the company.

She said Upper Highway Air believed the public had been lied to about what was happening at the landfill, otherwise EnviroServ would have no reason to withhold the data.

“They say they are prepared to work with us but they are not doing that. They have a right not to incriminate themselves but what about our right to breathe clean air? What about our right to know the truth?”

The waste management company further stated that Upper Highway Air was likely to publish the information to its more than 10 000 Facebook followers, which would result in it being handed over to the prosecution authorities and “being tried in a court of public opinion and being convicted before the criminal trial commences”.

EnviroServ chief executive Dean Thompson said the information requested was competitor-sensitive and not for general distribution.

“The waste inventory submissions were made to the Department of Environmental Affairs and intended for the authorities to evaluate what EnviroServ was accepting and its potential contribution to odours.”

EnviroServ already has two legal actions against it, a civil suit by Upper Highway Air and a criminal case brought by the National Prosecuting Authority on allegations of contravening the National Air Quality Act.

Initially there were four charges but on Tuesday, senior state advocate Yuri Gangai told the Durban Magistrates Court that the charge sheet had not been finalised because of new evidence which could see more charges being added.

Meanwhile, Upper Highway Air has approached the Durban High Court because it wants all commercial activities at the landfill suspended while EnviroServ carries out remedial action.

“Given the time frames admitted by EnviroServ to ‘remedy’ the situation, we understand a minimum of 12 months. Is it fair that they continue to trade at the site while the community suffers the impact of those operations?” Upper Highway Air’s lawyer Charmane Nel asked.

Johnson said there were also concerns by the monitoring committee that EnviroServ might be deliberately keeping the 2016 audit report from the committee after a failure to present it at a meeting last month.

“The meeting was disrupted because they (EnviroServ) didn’t have the audit report for 2016. We have seen the executive summary, but their licence conditions stipulated that we must see the entire report because we are members of the monitoring committee,” she said.

Thompson said the company had prepared a presentation to share with the committee which included a site update and an audit update.

“The meeting was once again disrupted and we had no opportunity to present. We did distribute the executive summary of the report the next day to the facilitator to distribute to all members and other interested parties on the current mailing list,” he said.

SUNDAY TRIBUNE