New legal challenge to shut down Durban landfill site

2017-04-18 13:35
Pollution. (Rajesh Kumar Singh, AP, file)

Pollution. (Rajesh Kumar Singh, AP, file)

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Durban - Dozens of doctors, specialists and school principals have given their support to a fresh legal challenge aimed at completely shutting down a landfill site they blame for a "big stink" and resultant health issues for residents of Shongweni and Hillcrest, in the west of Durban.

Doctors, in affidavits supporting non-profit company Upper Highway Air's (UHA) continuing dispute with EnviroServ Waste Management, all report seeing an increasing number of patients with allergic rhinitis and asthma.

"The health impacts associated with the odour are real," said Dr Yvonne Reece.

Paediatrician Dr Jayendra Narsai said he had noticed a "marked increase" in upper and lower respiratory infections "directly related to when the smell is the strongest".

"Children have recurrent episodes of bronchitis and have been admitted to hospital for bronchopneumonia. In my view, this should be dealt with as a medical emergency."

Writing on behalf of four schools, with a total of 4 600 pupils, the acting head of Highbury Preparatory School, Belinda Willows, said teachers and parents are "deeply concerned about the chemical smell which appears to be getting worse".

'Criminal offence'

A teacher at the nearby Ingane Yami Children's Village said she had suffered 11 migraines in two months and many of the children were having "unexplained" nose bleeds and gastro problems.

UHA will be back in court next week, asking a judge to grant an order interdicting EnviroServ from receiving, treating and disposing of any waste at its Shongweni site.

This will be until the outcome of an intended appeal by the company against the Department of Environment Affairs' suspension of part of its waste management licence.

UHA says EnviroServ is in breach of the compliance notice because it has refused to hand over a copy of a toxicology report to the department. UHA says this is a "criminal offence".

UHA director Lauren Johnson in her affidavit said as a result of increasing complaints from the community, certain parts of EnviroServ's licence conditions were suspended by the department earlier this month.

Although UHA had yet to see the documentation, EnviroServ claimed to have lodged an appeal against this suspension.

'Serious misrepresentations'

"We seek urgent relief [to close the site down] in light of the fact that the community continues to suffer negative health impacts both psychological and physiological.

"Its continued trade from October 2016 [when a contravention notice was first issued] to date, has evidenced an increase in complaints.

"And compounding matters is that the company has refused to hand over the toxicology report it was instructed to secure from an independent specialist. This constitutes fresh grounds for the revocation of its licence."

Johnson said the study was to determine the impact on health and the "suite of pollutants" in the landfill gas emanating from the site, the concentrations, and what gasses were affecting which communities.

She accused EnviroServ of making "serious misrepresentations" about the need for it to continue trading so that it can speed up remediation steps necessary to address the gas emissions.

"It claims that the pH levels within the waste body are at the core of the odour problem and continued receipt of specific waste streams are necessary to see a continued rise in the site's pH levels... but the adjustment of the pH level via incoming waste is futile for addressing the emissions over the short to medium term, if ever."

'Alarming' emissions levels

"Landfill cover does not need to come from waste. It can be purchased. The only excuse for this is the company will be getting paid for remedial measures as opposing to have to pay itself," Johnson insisted.

Johnson claims there is now proof which shows that incorrect waste disposal at the site had resulted in both "high sulphate-containing waste and an elevated landfill temperature".

"This has prevented the waste body from entering into a methanogenic state with desirable bacteria. Instead, there has been the proliferation of sulphur-reducing bacteria creating alarmingly high hydrogen sulphide (H2S) gas levels."

Johnson said while the company refused to disclose or acknowledge this, the complaints from the community were increasing.

"The irony of the matter is excessive levels of the H2S emissions damage the olfactory nerves of affected individuals, meaning they can no longer smell the gas which is harming them."

EnviroServ is expected to oppose the application.

'Concrete' defence

In a recent media release it said the suspension notice was premature and based on incorrect technical and scientific conclusions.

"Our expert reports will form the backbone of our defence to both civil and criminal charges which have been brought against the company.

"Our experts say the landfill must continue to receive specific waste streams to see a continued rise in pH levels.

"We maintain the site is compliant in all regards and we have concrete evidence that it is not the only contributor to the odour problem," group CEO Dean Thompson said.

EnviroServ, in a communication issued last Thursday, said a specialist report on the human health risks arising from the 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," it went on to say.
 
"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." 
 
“EnviroServ remain fully committed to our own corrective measures which will be implemented by the end of August,” said Thompson.
 
“We are confident the report has captured everything related to the landfill which could be of potential health concern to the community."
 

Read more on:    durban  |  environment  |  pollution

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