Despite spending more R10 million over nine months to resolve a massive stink, Enviroserv’s Shongweni landfill site which receives vast quantities of “hazardous, not necessarily toxic” waste, faces possible shut down by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).
Parties guilty of air pollution emanating from the landfill might also face criminal prosecution.
On the eve of a Toxic Trek protest march in Hillcrest yesterday, the DEA gave Enviroserv four days’ notice to make representations as to why the Enviroserv’s licence for its landfill site should not be immediately revoked or suspended pending rehabilitation of the landfill site.
DEA spokesman, Albie Modise, said the docket containing the results of associated criminal investigations by the Green Scorpions had been referred to the National Prosecuting Authority for a decision.
Exactly what hazardous waste has ended up at the landfill site, resulting in Enviroserv recently spending more than R10 million in addressing air pollution problems, has not yet been disclosed by Enviroserv or authorities.
Handing over a memorandum to Enviroserv at the end of yesterday’s Toxic Trek, Upper Highway Air representative, Lauren Johnson, said residents exposed to gasses emanating from the landfill had experienced headaches, respiratory illnesses, nosebleeds, sinusitis, new asthma diagnoses, nausea and eczema.
Johnson said these symptoms had been recorded in over 500 affidavits handed over to the Green Scorpions. She said while residents of middle class communities in Hillcrest had experienced these symptoms for over a year, people in the poorer, rural communities adjacent to the landfill (Dassenhoek and KwaNdengezi) had suffered more for 15 years.
Responding to Roving Reporters queries sent earlier in the week, Enviroserv Group CEO, Dean Thompson, said these health concerns were unfounded.
“The company runs an intensive employee health programme and despite some staff working at the landfill for up to 20 years, no evidence of any health impacts have been observed,” said Thompson.
“While we admit to contributing to the odour, we are not the only source,” said Thompson.
He said waste accepted at the landfill was “hazardous, not necessarily toxic” and included industrial chemicals, condemned foodstuffs, contaminated soils and general household waste.
The fact that condemned food and household waste was being disposed alongside hazardous chemicals has given rise to serious concerns about the poorest of poor people climbing over the landfill’s perimeter fence to scavenge for food, even cooking and selling it on the roadside.
An official from the KZN department of environmental affairs who asked not be to be named, yesterday confirmed that authorities were aware that scavenging off the landfill had been taking place for several years.
Thompson yesterday said he was surprised by the DEA’s intention to revoke or suspend their licence.
“It is unfortunate that they have succumbed to public opinion and inexplicably deviated from the agreed remedial processes that we have complied with, and will continue to implement,” said Thompson.
“Since we became aware of the odour problem in April 2016 we have spent more than R10-million to resolve the issue,” said Thompson.
He said these measures included covering leachate storage tanks and fitting them with activated carbon gas extraction and filtration systems and installing real-time air quality monitoring.
On protestors’ rallying cry, Enviroserv Must Fall, Thompson said no other waste companies could provide a better service.
“Enviroserv operates seven landfill sites around Southern Africa and haves a 37-year track record of compliance. We are a pioneer in the industry and have the cleanest track record.”
While Upper Highway Air have welcomed action by the authorities, and associated criminal investigations, Johnson said the continued refusal, both by Enviroserv and authorities, to make a full disclosure of what is going into the landfill and its possible toxic effects, remained a huge public concern.
- Click here to read more about Roving Reporters investigations into Enviroserv’s management of ‘hazardous, but not necessarily toxic’ waste.
Roving Reporters’ Enviroserv investigation forms part of our Thin Green Line series, supported by the Human Elephant Foundation.