Residents raise a stink over landfill

Fed up with years of stench and pollution from the Shongweni landfill site west of Durban, residents have appealed against the issuing of a reviewed waste management licence to EnviroServ earlier this year.

Lawyers for Upper Highway Air, an environmental group, have lodged an appeal with the department of environment affairs and tourism against a new 10-year licence, which is also at the centre of a lengthy court battle.

The site, which opened in 2014, was shut down in 2018 by the environment affairs department but reopened after a new licence was granted in March. Residents of Shongweni, Dassenhoek, KwaNdengezi and people living up to 30km away have complained of a foul stench from the allegedly over-the-limit emission of hydrogen sulfide from the landfill, which caught fire earlier this month.

In 2017, the Green Scorpions charged EnviroServ managing director Dean Thompson, landfill manager Clive Kidd and two other managers with violations of air quality and waste management laws. The case has not been concluded. 

Earlier this month, members of a local monitoring committee that had previously backed the re-opening of the landfill, also wrote to Environment Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy claiming that EnviroServ has defaulted on the conditions for operating that are attached to the licence and asked her to revoke it.

They did so after a fire broke out at the landfill earlier this month, accusing EnviroServ management of reneging on a commitment to consult them as part of the process of starting up operations.

In the appeal document, lawyers for Upper Highway Air said the issuing of the licence had been flawed on several fronts. It had been extended by 10 years instead of until 2024, the expiry date for the original licence granted to EnviroServ in 2014.

The issuing office did not apply due diligence and instead turned the initial 2014 application into an irregular application to renew without having complied with the procedures prescribed for renewal.

As a result, the department “granted a new licence under the guise of a review of the existing licence”, it said. Granting the renewed licence was therefore unlawful and should be set aside because it was irrational, unreasonable and unjustifiable.

The issuing of a 10-year licence also “runs contrary” to research that shows the negative effects of the landfill on residents, especially those who live in the townships previously reserved for black people.

Upper Highway Air said that although the licence was time limited (10 years), it was not dated, which rendered it invalid because “we cannot say when the licence was issued and when it will expire”.

The environmental group said that the issuing officer “merely regurgitated the contents from the prior licence” and as result granted it on the basis of outdated and invalid documents.

In an email to the environment affairs minister on July 17, monitoring committee member Mbongeni Nsele, a representative of the ward nearest the landfill, said the company had been violating the terms of its new licence.

“They are now violating all conditions. The site was burning last week and they are using Covid to hide the violations,” he said.

Nsele said the company had agreed to meet residents on June 30 but had failed to do so. Furthermore, compliance audits were not presented to the monitoring committee, as agreed to in the revised conditions of licence.

“We demand that the site is shut down immediately. We can’t continue with the pollution like before,” Nsele said.

Thompson said the licence had been reviewed at the minister’s request after its suspension was lifted. 

“This was done and based on this review, in March 2020, a reviewed licence was issued,” Thompson said.

He said the department had issued a comprehensive set of “actions” that had been completed and the compliance notice had been lifted.

“All conditions of the licence are being adhered to. The small fire which happened last month was isolated and dealt with swiftly, according to required safety protocols. The relevant authorities were informed and no further action is required,” Thompson said.

He said EnviroServ’s daily operations “remain compliant” and that it continued to consult residents through the monitoring committee, despite the Covid-19 lockdown.

Creecy’s spokesperson, Albie Modise, undertook to comment but had not done so at the time of writing. 

Dumpsite fire that smoked out Pietermaritzburg is finally out

Firefighters have finally extinguished the fire at the New England Road landfill site in Pietermaritzburg, which had engulfed the KwaZulu-Natal capital in thick clouds of toxic smoke since it flared up more than a week ago.

Msunduzi municipality spokesperson Thobeka Mfumbatha said the firewas extinguished by Tuesday afternoon by the firefighting teams, who had started battling the fire on July 21.

The local municipal firefighters were reinforced by teams from Durban and other parts of the province, as well as a team of 78 firefighters and 10 vehicles from Working on Fire, the environment affairs department’s fire fighting unit.

The N3 freeway had to be closed because of poor visibility caused by the dense clouds of smoke. 

The landfill was still closed on Wednesday, and was likely to remain so while the area is compacted to ensure that no flare-ups occur, Mfumbatha said.

On the weekend, Sihle Zikalala, the premier of KwaZulu-Natal, ordered an investigation into the cause of the fire. 

Mfumbatha said there was no clarity on how the blaze started because the investigation had not been concluded. 

A case of arson had, however, been laid with the police.

She said the municipality wanted to move the dumpsite, but would not be able to do so just yet. In the meantime, the city would focus on recycling initiatives to try to reduce waste.

Informal recyclers, who had been removed from the dump, will not be allowed to return until the problems at the landfill have been resolved, according to Mfumbatha.

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Paddy Harper
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