Media banned from ‘open and transparent’ EnviroServ ‘toxic air’ meeting

DURBAN, May 25 (ANA) – The company being accused of releasing “toxic air” into the Hillcrest environment has banned the media from a Wednesday night meeting.

EnviroServ, which owns the Shongweni landfill site, confirmed on Wednesday morning that media would not be allowed at a working committee meeting made up of community members and EnviroServ representatives.

According to EnviroServ’s group technical director, Esme Gombault, EnviroServ was looking to have an “open and transparent” meeting with the working committee and that this could only be done without the media present.

“This meeting is not open to members of the press. It is an opportunity for EnviroServ and the community to engage each other in a safe environment,” the company’s group public relations manager, Makgabo van Niekerk, said via email last week.

Community representatives on the working committee have said that they agreed to no such decision and were not consulted on it. 

EnviroServ has come under fire from some community members in Plantations Estate, which has about 700 homes and is situated about three kilometres from the landfill.

Plantations residents said they have been experiencing nausea, headaches and coughing spasms since November 2015 and contended that the smell has worsened since January this year.

Residents as far away as Gillits, Botha’s Hill and Waterfall have also experienced the odours, as have community members from Shongweni and Shongweni Dam.

The media was invited to a site visit on Wednesday morning, where a strong chemical and diesel smell was evident. Also visiting the site were community members who identified the stench as the same that entered their homes.

The only ones who appeared not to identify the smell were EnviroServ employees also on the tour, including Gombault and site manager Clive Kidd. They dismissed the stink as a “normal landfill smell”.

On their WhatsApp group on Wednesday morning, Plantations residents had been complaining that the odour was “particularly bad”. Gombault was read the messages from a resident at the site visit and offered no comment.

At a community meeting held in mid-May, the air quality results presented by EnviroServ were dismissed as “junk science” by environmentalists Desmond D’sa and Rico Euripidou.

At that meeting, Gombault said that EnviroServ’s report showed “[The] ambient air quality on the boundaries of the Shongweni landfill site and at the Plantations Estate posed a low general health or cancer risk to exposed individuals during the survey period”.

She said the analysed data “suggested a contribution by a more local source of these [volatile organic compounds] than the landfill site (located 3,350m from Plantations Estate which has been vocal in its complaints)”.

The company has also come under scrutiny at its Aloes site in Port Elizabeth, which some community members say is emitting chemicals that are affecting the health of local residents. D’sa and Euripidou were also working with the affected community in that area.

“EnviroServ is engaging constructively with a community organisation (LIVES) that is investigating a reported increase in blood diseases in the Eastern Cape. To our knowledge, no individual or community health impact has been linked to our operations in Port Elizabeth,” Gombault had previously told ANA.

EnviroServ is in the process of doing more testing at its Shongweni site.

– African News Agency (ANA)

Disclaimer: This story is pulled directly from the African News Agency wire, and has not been edited by Mail & Guardian staff. The M&G does not accept responsibility for errors in any statement, quote or extract that may be contained therein.

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