The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has confirmed that the KZN office of a toxic waste management company accused of releasing foul-smelling gas into the air, resulting scores of complaints from the neighbouring communty, was “visited unannounced” by the Green Scorpions last week.
Speaking at a community meeting in Merebank, south of Durban on Thursday evening, Grant Walters, the DEA’s Director Enforcement: Environmental Impact and Pollution told the audience of over 100 locals that EnviroServ’s Shongweni landfill had been visited “unannounced” on Monday. (Noseweek first reported on the stinky situation at the Enviroserv dump in May.)
“I wouldn’t call it a raid; we were executing a search warrant in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act,” said Walters. Documents and samples wefe retrieved from the company's offices. Results from samples seized could be expected in about two weeks.
“No charges have been laid for now, although if we do go through that process there must be a reasonable suspicion that an offence is being committed. We do have that reasonable suspicion,” he said.
The samples would be used to determine the composition of the leachate at the landfill. Leachate is a by-product of the waste disposal process.
EnviroServ had determined that gaseous emissions were emanating from the leachate after tests conducted by two separate companies. Local residents have been complaining for months about the stench they allege emanates from Enviroserve’s site – and of unpleasant health impacts.
“The samples will be analysed by the CSIR and after that we will be in a position to make an informed decision on charges,” said Walters.
“If you deal with a criminal investigation you have to deal with it very objectively, so you don’t rely on information that anybody gives you,” he said.
“The days of environmental criminals are over. That is why our department is involved now with this investigation. We are looking at people in their personal capacity, at the director of the company having made certain decisions or not to have made certain decisions that affect the environment. But that is a process of investigation,” he said.
Statements from affected community members in Merebank, Hillcrest and surrounds would help to “expedite the investigation” he said.
EnviroServ has come under intense pressure from residents in Hillcrest, Shongweni, Dassenhoek, KwaNdengezi and surrounds, who say that the company’s “toxic fumes” from the landfill have been causing nosebleeds, sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma and other health problems.
The DEA had previously confirmed that in one week in August, over 300 complaints were received from residents.
Thursday night’s meeting was held in Merebank (about 26km away from the inland Hillcrest) because the DEA ordered EnviroServ to dispose of all of its stored leachate and contaminated storm water from its Shongweni Site, amongst other conditions, following community complaints.
According to Chris Fennimore, senior manager at eThekwini’s pollution and environment unit, six million tons of leachate and 18 million litres of contaminated storm water will be disposed of through the southern sewerage works, four kilometres offshore of Cuttings Beach. The effluent was pre-treated with hydrogen peroxide, he said.
In response to a question about where EnviroServ’s leachate had been disposed of before the company had constructed its effluent treatment plant, Fennimore said: “They were taking the leachate through to the sea outflow, as you know.”
EnviroServ representatives were not present at the meeting; however, a typed letter on an EnviroServ letterhead was handed to community members as they entered the premises.
Signed by EnviroServ CEO, Dean Thompson, the letter said:
“We view claims we are damaging the health of people and killing marine life by dumping toxic waste into the ocean in a serious light. Making such claims is completely unfounded.”
“Please let me be clear: the Shongweni landfill site does not dump any waste into the sea at all – ever. Our Effluent Treatment Plant is fully operational and can treat all the leachate which we have on site.
“However, we are following instructions by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to speed up the process by emptying our leachate tanks and storm water dams and (as authorised by eThekwini Water and Sanitation) send this effluent to the Southern Waste Water Treatment Works for legal disposal.”
The letter further said there were “hundreds of other industries which use Southern Waste Water Treatment works to dispose of their effluent – the Shongweni landfill’s effluent is just a small fraction of this”.
Before the effluent was accepted for disposal, it had to meet “meticulous standards which are governed by the eThekwini municipality”.
In the past five years, the company had received five fines for not meeting one of the 17 standard parameters set by the municipality, according to the letter.
“Please be assured that these fines do not relate to a major non-compliance or criminal prosecution, but are rather administrative in nature”.
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