Durban company in court battle over 'toxic emissions' claims

2017-03-01 14:49
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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Durban – A company facing criminal prosecution for alleged "toxic emissions" from its landfill site in Shongweni, west of Durban is attempting to silence one of its most vocal critics.

Enviroserve says London-based programme manager Jeremy Everitt, who owns a house near the landfill site in which his sister and nephew live, is waging an "unlawful campaign" against the company.

Its urgent application against Everitt was adjourned in the Durban High Court on Wednesday for further affidavits to be filed.

But Everitt, who has the support of thousands of residents of the Upper Highway area, says he will not be bullied.

Residents have complained about the smells from the site and say their children are suffering from asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and nose bleeds.

This week, the National Prosecuting Authority confirmed that a decision had been made to prosecute the company for contravening the National Air Quality Act.

Everitt says Enviroserve is the author of its own "reputational damage" and what he is saying is true.

"They want to keep what is happening a secret. While experts debate the causes, fugitive gases spew out, polluting the atmosphere. The company would be best served fully admitting its faults and ceasing operations until the air pollution issue is resolved," he says in his affidavit.

Everitt maintains the application is not urgent.

Enviroserve first lodged interdict proceedings against Everitt last year.

Company defamed, losing customers

In response, he made a request through the court for certain documentation which, he says, has not been supplied.

The company claims the matter is a "fishing expedition" and that Everitt is delaying it.

In the meantime, he has refused to give any undertakings that he will stop his campaign and has recently contacted investors, shareholders, customers, SARS and various other organisations which have no interest in the matter, "rabble rousing" about the alleged issues at the landfill site.

Everitt, the company alleges, has latched onto a website run by Upper Highway Air, a non-profit company monitoring the "smell issue" and campaigning for clean air, and is "forwarding it to literally hundreds of recipients".

Esme Gombault, group technical director, says in her affidavit that the matter had become urgent and an interim interdict was required, because the company was being defamed and losing customers.

Gombault said since August last year, after the Department of Environmental Affairs intervened following complaints by residents, the company had spent about R15m to address "the odour problem".

She said in January pictures of "plumes" of smoke were posted on the Upper Highway Air website, which Everitt forwarded to an international investor, HarbourVest.

The company denied the plumes were from its site. No combustible material was disposed of there and there were no chemical reactions on the site, it said.

She said environmental affairs department officials had found high hydrogen sulphide measurements on the site. The company was disputing these readings.

In a separate affidavit, the company’s attorney Hendrik Reeders says in correspondence with entities such as SARS and the Financial Services Board, Everitt had attached "highly emotionally-charged photographs from the website, of obviously distressed children using artificial respirators to breathe".

A 'medical emergency'

Reeders said the children were not local because "had they been, the public outrage would have been unmanageable".

Karla Lott, director of Upper Highway Air, said this was "outrageous". In her affidavit, she says one of the children is her own child and "they all live in the affected area".

She says her family have sold their house and moved.

"I cannot live on no sleep and I don’t expect my children to endure the vomiting, respiratory distress and nosebleeds."

Lott said in January and February, the organisation received about 22 000 complaints.

"Last week, we received five statements from local doctors confirming an increase in respiratory and dermatological impacts. One, a paediatrician, called it a medical emergency.

"We do not publish falsehoods on our website."

In January this year, thousands of residents from the affected areas took part in a protest march, calling for the closure of the site.

Early last month, the environmental affairs department served the company with a notice to suspend or revoke its licence.

The company claims that the bacteria Desulfovibrio vulgaris is contributing to the stench, but denied it caused health issues.

Read more on:    durban  |  health  |  pollution

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