After nearly a year of denying that it was the source of the “toxic” fumes that are making many local residents ill, EnviroServ Waste Management’s hazardous landfill west of Durban has been ordered to suspend “acceptance, treatment and disposal” of waste. The waste destined for the Shongweni site will now be sent to other facilities.
In a letter to clients, EnviroServ said it has “another landfill that we will use in Durban and Holfontein [near Benoni]”.
The suspension is the result of a directive issued on 4 April by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). The decision has been a year coming after Noseweek broke the story exactly 12 months ago (noses199; 200; 203; 204; 205 & 210).
Local residents have complained of suffering nosebleeds, nausea, vomiting, sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma and other health-related conditions, and remain convinced these ailments are caused by the “toxic fumes” from the landfill.
In April Noseweek reported that children at a facility near the site had complained of headaches, migraines and nausea. Noseweek has seen affidavits compiled by doctors in the area in which they say they believe the illnesses experienced in the affected areas are because of the fumes.
In a statement outlining the reasons for the directive, DEA spokesman Albie Modise said that there was still an “unacceptably high level of landfill gases being emitted” from the Shongweni landfill site.
“The decision to suspend the Waste Management Licence (WML) is therefore one of the significant steps to a permanent solution to this catastrophic situation,” said Modise. He added that it was the department’s view there was a potential threat to human health and/or the environment.
EnviroServ and its CEO, Dean Thompson, are facing criminal charges. The first appearance in court was to have been in April.
In April, the non-profit Upper Highway Air – founded to protect the rights of residents – approached the High Court in Durban to interdict EnviroServ “to comply with its licence conditions and statutory obligations… to account for the advantages it has received by virtue of the contraventions” and to have “an order declared that the company or its senior executives are not ‘fit and proper’ to be granted a licence application, renewal or review of existing licences”.
EnviroServ has consistently denied any health implications associated with the stench.
Thompson said the company is likely to appeal the DEA directive, claiming that the department is cherry-picking the data in order to come to a pre-determined conclusion.
“We shared information with the DEA relating to fresh data obtained from three real-time air quality monitors recently installed in communities surrounding the Shongweni Landfill.
“These monitors revealed the presence of high levels of sulphur dioxide (a harmful gas with a pungent odour), a gas typically produced by combustion processes, and which does not emanate from landfill sites. This, to our knowledge, has yet to be followed up by the authorities,” said Thompson.
However the company’s reasons for not being responsible have shifted over the past year. Initially they denied any responsibility, they then admitted to “contributing” to an odour but blamed nearby agricultural industries, sewage works and fuel pipelines as also being possible contributors.
Once these were ruled out, Enviro-Serv shifted yet again and the company blamed the regulations they were required to follow.
To counter what has now turned into an onslaught of bad press, the company has launched a website dedicated to the landfill site and has enlisted the help of brand management firm Corporate Image.
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