EnviroServ toxicology report will be available to all - DEA

DURBAN - EnviroServ’s toxicology report for its contentious Shongweni landfill – which claims to exonerate the company from reported health impacts associated with the malodour from the site – will be available to whoever wants to see it.

This is according to the Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) deputy director-general for chemicals and waste management, Mark Gordon, who spoke to Noseweek on Monday.  

Last week, EnviroServ released a press release via its public relations company – based on the toxicology report – that seemingly absolved the company of any health related issues associated with the noxious odours emanating from the landfill [see the full press release below – Ed].

The company has come under intense scrutiny as residents and communities near and around the landfill have been complaining for approximately a year about alleged “toxic fumes” from the site that they believe are making them ill.

The much anticipated toxicology report is seen as pivotal to determining if EnviroServ’s site is indeed “gassing community members”, as several residents have alleged.

Gordon told Noseweek that initially the company refused to make the report available to the DEA at its premises.

Legal representation for the Upper Highway Air (UHA) non profit - which is representing the affected communities in a civil case against the waste disposal giant - alleges that the company has refused to make the report available to it at all, meaning the UHA’s own experts are unable to verify the findings in the report or compare the raw data to its own. 

Members of the media, including Noseweek, have also been denied access to the report.

“We received the [toxicology report] a day or so later than [the agreed upon time]. In the beginning, they refused us access to the report in terms of delivering it here. They wanted us to view it at their offices.... We gave them 24 hours to send it back, so it came a day or so later,” Gordon told Noseweek.

But, he said, in terms of the appeals’ process, the toxicology report and all of the other reports pertinent to the site would be “made available to everybody”.

“There is no reason why the reports should not be made available,” he said.

The department’s experts were currently reviewing the toxicology report, he said, which included the national department of health, other authorities and international experts.

The DEA issued a notice to suspend EnviroServ’s waste management licence in February, saying the company had failed to comply with the terms of its licence.

In April, portions of the company’s licence were indeed suspended, meaning it could not accept, treat or dispose of waste at the site because there was a “potential threat to human life” emanating from the “unacceptably high level of landfill gases”. Gordon said he decided not to close the site completely as it would hamper the company’s efforts at remedial action.

While EnviroServ is appealing Gordon’s “premature” decision with the minister of environmental affairs, operations at its site continue, much to the dismay of community members.

Residents continue to complain of nosebleeds, elevated levels of bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis and other illnesses. This, and the bureaucratic pace of the department, led the UHA to institute a civil suit against the company.

Residents from the areas near and around the Shongweni landfill pictured at court protesting earlier this month as EnviroServ CEO Dean Thompson made his first appearance in the State vs EnviroServ.

EnviroServ’s chief executive, Dean Thompson, contends it has spent R15 million on remedial action, but insists the company is only a contributor to the malodour.

Thompson says that other industries in the area have not been scrutinised by the department or the UHA and that residents are actively campaigning to close the site as part of an orchestrated and malicious campaign.

That campaign, according to the company, has seen Thompson’s life being threatened, his wife harassed on social media and other staff members also being harassed and intimidated. The company contends it had to hire the services of a bodyguard for Thompson’s first appearance in the criminal case earlier this month.

The department initiated criminal proceedings against the company in February for failure to comply with legislation. At the first appearance in April (at which Thompson needed a bodyguard), the case was postponed in order for the state to finalise its charge sheet.  The DEA has also stated publicly that it will more than likely be adding charges and increasing the list of accused, with Thompson himself being fingered.

Both parties are expected in court again in August. The company says its “corrective measures” will be completed by the end of the same month.

UHA’s attorneys will appear in the Durban High Court on Wednesday (tomorrow) seeking an urgent interdict to compel EnviroServ to cease operations at the landfill until the appeal of its suspension has run its course.

EnviroServ has pooh-poohed this, saying there is no urgency as there has been no change in conditions at the site since the UHA first threatened litigation in early December.

“The NPC relies on no additional evidence whatsoever [to show urgency], save for an escalation in public complaints,” according to EnviroServ’s court papers. And those complaints, it says, come with no evidence indicating that the landfill is responsible for the increase in complaints.

Legal representative for the UHA, Charmane Nel, said that her client is awaiting the toxicology report as an interested and affected party and is legally entitled to it, but has been denied access to it on the grounds of the appeal, even though the toxicology report did not form part of the appeal. 

Instead, Nel says the company has only offered her supporting documents contained in its appeal, which does not include the toxicology report.

Responding to questions on Friday on whether the NPC had received the toxicology report, EnviroServ’s public relations company told Noseweek that Nel would be able to view “the reports” but not uplift copies.

Thompson told Noseweek that because EnviroServ was involved in civil litigation with the NPC, the “expert reports” would be made available according to the “rules governing this litigation”.

“In the interim, the reports have been made available to the authorities and legal representatives of the parties to the appeal under the strictest confidence,” said Thompson.

EnviroServ press release:

Toxicologists conclude health risk assessment of Shongweni Landfill

A specialist report on the human health risks arising from the Shongweni Landfill has found the primary air contaminant contributing to odour in the Upper Highway area is present at levels not linked with major health issues.

The contaminant is hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which is not associated with a risk of cancer.

The community health risk assessment by professional scientific company INFOTOX took four months to complete and considered all potential sources of hazardous substances in air released from the Shongweni Landfill operations.

The work included air samples being sent to accredited laboratories in the United Kingdom for analysis, detailed dispersion modelling by Airshed Planning Professionals as well as direct readings taken on the site with calibrated instruments.

The community health risk assessment, which will be presented to the authorities in due course, concluded that:
* There is an odour contribution emanating from the landfill in the community, caused by H2S and organic sulfur compounds, which can be smelled at particularly low concentrations;

* International health studies were done at higher and lower concentrations of these compounds. The Shongweni landfill study fit in with relatively low concentrations;

* According to the available health information, among others nose bleeding, cardiovascular effects and breathing problems in asthmatics cannot be linked with exposure to H2S at the levels found in the communities;

* Considering the multitude of chemical substances investigated, no others were found to be of health concern;

* According to currently available information, Shongweni is not the only source of H2S in the study area. This affects the health risk interpretations, because Shongweni is not the major contributor to H2S;

* There is no concern about a cancer risk linked to emissions from the landfill;

* The investigation confirmed that it is unlikely that the reported “refinery” odour is associated with the Shongweni landfill activities.

The sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions recorded in KwaNdengezi and Plantations by EnviroServ’s real-time air monitors, which provided data recently reported to the authorities, were not included in the health risk assessment.

“This is because SO2 is not formed at the landfill as there are no combustion activities,” said EnviroServ Group Technical Specialist Dr Johan Schoonraad. Sulfur dioxide health effects include asthma attacks and other airway problems and as a result, INFOTOX has recommended a further investigation.

“EnviroServ remain fully committed to our own corrective measures which will be implemented by the end of August,” said EnviroServ Group CEO Dean Thompson. INFOTOX believes the study to be the biggest source characterisation, modelling and health risk assessment which has been done at any landfill in South Africa.

“We are confident the report has captured everything related to the landfill which could be of potential health concern to the community,” said Thompson.


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