Shongweni landfill site owners get death threats

2017-04-25 16:33
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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Durban - Shongweni landfill site owners EnviroServ - accused of being responsible for a "big stink" which is making people sick - says its officials and their families are being intimidated and harassed and have been forced to up security at their homes after receiving threats of abduction and even death.

"Our CEO Dean Thompson had to be accompanied by bodyguards when he attended court," said Technical Director Esme Gombault in an affidavit filed ahead of an urgent court hearing on Wednesday seeking a court order to permanently shut down the site.

The application, launched by Upper Highway Air NPC, has the support of residents and dozens of doctors, specialists and school principals in the area, who claim to have seen a dramatic increase in illness since the "rotten egg" odour began wafting through their neighbourhoods in 2016.

EnviroServ has been served with a suspension notice by the Department of Environment Affairs and it has been charged criminally by the "Green Scorpions".

It is now appealing the suspension, but Upper Highway wants the site shut down in the meantime.

READ: New legal challenge to shut down Durban landfill site

Toxicology report

Director Lauren Johnson, in her affidavit, accused the company of breaking the law by refusing to hand over a toxicology report.

She 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."

But Gombault, while conceding that H2S at certain concentrations can affect health, said it is not the sole contributor to the problem and it is getting the situation under control.

Landfills operate under "complicated science" and Upper Highway had misunderstood scientific reports.

She reiterated the company's stance: New waste regulations, which were phased in from August 2013, were "the smoking gun".

She said the department could not possibly concede this "because it could become exposed to significant claims", but competitors in the businesses were having the same problems.

She said the company, unprompted, had in August 2016 submitted an 11-point remedial plan to the department.

Remedial programme

Realising that it was necessary to engage with the community, it had initiated an ADR "alternative dispute resolution" process.

Discussions culminated in a non-disclosure agreement, a tacit term of which was that a moratorium would be placed on any formal litigation proceedings.

Contrary to this, Upper Highway had launched the present court application.

Similarly, the department had breached its agreement not to suspend its licence while the remedial programme at the site was ongoing and showing progress.

"Notwithstanding the positive diminishing results in respect of H2S emissions, it did not appear as if community complaints were abating. We installed three online real monitors in the community," she said.

The "startling results" indicated high levels of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) which could not have come from the site as combustion does not take place there. This was proof of another pollution source.

Gambault said the remedial plan in process was working, and to stop it now would mean the site would continue to generate H2S and the "effects now complained of by the community would be exacerbated".

The closure would also have a disastrous effect on the business and would cause a landfill space shortage crisis in the province.
Regarding the toxicology report, she said the Green Scorpions intended to rely on it to prosecute the company.

"The consequences are bizarre. It would leave the company bereft of a defence. The department has agreed not to release the results of these studies."

Officials under siege

In the meantime, the company and its officials were under siege.

"We do not dispute the legitimacy of Upper Highways complaints, but we have been incorrectly, albeit conveniently, targeted as the sole culprit."

She said a splinter group "EnviroVengers", which was associated to Upper Highway, had claimed responsibility for defacing the home of the site manager.

Thompson had been shouted at and insulted at his court appearance.

He had also received an email from the fictitiously-created address "deanthompsontoxic@gmail.com".

The writer threatened to "destroy you and your business as long as we have to suffer your toxic stink and behave like a bunch of criminals" and to "make your life more miserable".

"We have had enough Dean, so sort this shit out quick or we will step up the volume even more. You ain't seen nothing yet." (sic)

Upper Highway attorney Charmane Nel said her client would persist with the application and would also ask the court to order the company to produce the toxicology report.

In a supplementary affidavit, another Upper Highway director Dr Karla Lott - who lives in the area and who says her young children have been severely affected by the toxic smell - said the "ADR" engagements were a sham because the company had made "dishonest denials" concerning the existence of information and had refused to make raw data available.

"We will not be dissuaded by bullying tactics and threats. We have always been open to investigating other polluters. This does not detract from the need to address the pollution and impacts caused by the company. If it ever releases information, reliable or otherwise, which we can actually investigate, we will address those polluters, if any."

Read more on:    durban  |  environment

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