Environmental affairs dept probes Enviroserv's Shongweni landfill


The Shongweni landfill.

DURBAN – The environmental affairs department (DEA) says it is not opposed to fining or taking legal action against a multi-national company’s Durban-based operation accused of releasing “toxic air” into the community.

Waste disposal powerhouse EnviroServ’s Shongweni landfill site had two visits from the DEA in the past month, following hundreds of complaints since January from residents in Hillcrest, Waterfall, Gillitts, and surrounds who accused the company of releasing toxic odours into the area that allegedly left several residents sick.

“DEA is currently exploring its options in terms of determining the best way to move forward on this issue. At this stage DEA is not excluding enforcement action against EnviroServ,” DEA spokesman Albi Modise told ANA.

Modise said EnviroServ had shown “general compliance” in the past at its Shongweni landfill but the company’s licence would be reviewed. “… the license will be reviewed in terms of continual improvement of environmental performance of the site and subject to progress with the current set of instructions.”

Modise said a number of instructions had been issued to EnviroServ to deal with the potential sources of odours and the manner in which the site was managed.

“[This includes] temporary suspension of hazardous waste disposal for a period of two weeks while other potentially problematic sources of malodour or noxious emissions are identified; the management of leachate; a stakeholder management plan; toxicological assessment; full site technical assessment to address various engineering aspects; as well as an urgent environmental monitoring committee meeting to formally convene and report to stakeholders and the community.”

Modise said the DEA’s full report on the Shongweni landfill would be tabled at an environmental monitoring committee meeting set to take place next week.

EnviroServ’s initial internal findings from air monitoring done in April indicated the company was probably not responsible for the odours, but those results and the methods used to obtain them were slammed as “junk science” by environmentalists and residents at a heated community meeting.

Subsequent pressure from the community – in particular residents of the upmarket Plantations’ Estate – led to a working committee being formed, comprising of community members, EnviroServ management, and specialist long-term contractors to EnviroServ.

But additional community pressure eventually led to an independent specialist being hired to monitor air quality in the area. The community chose the specialist and EnviroServ footed the bill, at the community’s request.

After additional testing by the independent specialist, together with EnviroServ’s contractor, it was found that a leak in a leachate tank had indeed contributed to the stink in the area.

EnviroServ subsequently apologised for any “inconvenience” it had caused and said while it was fully committed to resolving the problem it did not believe it was the sole contributor to the odours.

EnviroServ group CEO Dean Thompson told ANA on Friday that the company had been “actively working to improve the situation with regards to odour complaints in the vicinity of the Shongweni site”.

“In addition to measures already in place, we have started to implement further solutions as agreed with the department of environmental affairs. We believe these measures will reduce the odours,” he said.

The Shongweni landfill had stopped accepting class a (type 1) waste from August 22 to September 5 while remedial measures were carried out. These waste streams were being disposed of at alternative licensed sites. All waste streams were also being assessed, he said.

“We have commenced with the once-off, offsite disposal of all stored leachate and storm water with the necessary approval. This is being done in tankers that are operating on a daily basis.

“We are preparing a leachate management plan for submission to the department; this includes the covering of all leachate storage tanks. Orders for covers have already been placed.”

Thompson said a toxicological assessment of potential health hazards associated with odours emanating from the site would be done and consultations with the relevant local authorities were under way.

A monitoring committee meeting had been convened for September 1 to update all affected parties. The monitoring committee was the legislated mechanism for engaging with the local community.

Thompson said project timelines had been agreed with the department and the company was on track to meet the deadlines.

“As Africa’s leading waste management brand, EnviroServ prides itself on having the highest levels of legal and environmental compliance. We are confident that the above measures will address communities’ concerns and remain committed to finding a solution for all parties,” he said.

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