Fresh legal challenge in 'big stink' landfill battle

(File, AP)
(File, AP)

Durban - The row over the "rotten egg, big stink" - said to come from a landfill site adjoining the Durban suburbs of Hillcrest and Shongweni - has intensified, with a fresh legal challenge seeking to compel the relevant ministers and departments to take action against the site’s owners, waste management company EnviroServ.

This week, Upper Highway Air (UHA) - the activist group leading the charge against what is alleged to be a noxious health-threatening smell affecting residents - lodged papers in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban against the national minister and director-general of environment affairs, the provincial head of the department, and the eThekwini Municipality.

READ: Enviroserv officials in the dock over 'big stink'

It seeks to review a decision to "conditionally relax" a portion of an earlier suspension of the company's licence and compel them to take action against the company "to remedy the ongoing pollution, including making directions regarding the need for proper reliable monitoring, full capping and efficient, effective gas extraction and destruction".

UHA director Lauren Johnson said they also wanted an order to compel the minister to consider revoking EnviroServ's licence for breaching its obligations in terms of a compliance notice issued in October 2016.

"Relief against the municipality includes an order interdicting it from issuing EnviroServ with the necessary permit to trade from the premises and for an order declaring that the land use by EnviroServ of the Shongweni premises for the purposes of conducting its waste management activities, is not a permitted use."

This latest court application comes in the wake of a court challenge launched in 2017 aimed at permanently shutting down the site.

Company denies being cause of smell

Johnson now claims the company has refused to release the monitoring data.

"Our five experts now say that these devices are incapable of reliably monitoring the air pollution - although it seems this data was presumably showed to the minister and she chose to accept this (by lifting the suspension)."

The company, while it has admitted having some issues at the site, denies that it is the cause of the smell or that the smell is affecting health.

READ: Battle looms over Cape Town green waste tender

It says it is doing ongoing remedial work at the site and is closely monitoring all emissions. It says closing down the site will make the situation worse, not better.

In 2017, the company, its CEO Dean Thompson and three officials - Clive Kidd, Esme Gombault and Dr Johan Schoonraad - were criminally charged.

According to the charge sheet, it is alleged that - during January 2015 and January 2017 - they did not prevent the emission of an offensive "rotten egg" smell, they failed to manage waste properly, and that they did not comply with the conditions of their licence.

They appeared in court again on Wednesday and the matter was adjourned until March.

UHA has also instituted proceedings against EnviroServ in the Equality Court, claiming that company employees were harassing residents and using hate speech.

The company is opposing this application.

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