Company in Hillcrest toxic stench row repeatedly breached bylaws

ANA Newswire / All 4 Women
 September 02, 2016
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A waste management company, which incurred the wrath of residents of Durban’s Hillcrest area over the stench that its landfill site has caused, has been fined repeatedly by the eThekwini Metro Municipality in the past five years, for breaching environmental bylaws …

An unnamed municipal official from Durban Solid Waste – the municipal entity responsible for Durban’s waste – who spoke at a heated emergency environmental committee meeting on Thursday evening that was gate-crashed by about 100 angry residents, said EnviroServ was fined R1 000 each time that it breached the city’s bylaws relating to leachate discharged from the waste site that it manages in Shongweni.

The woman told the angry residents that EnviroServ had signed an admission of guilt and had taken steps to comply with bylaws by putting in a reverse osmosis plant, but that this was not yet fully functional.

When pressed to reveal how many times EnviroServ had breached the bylaws, the woman would only say that they were repeat offenders over the five years.

Health concerns

The Assegay Hotel meeting was meant to see EnviroServ inform the community about its actions to eliminate the stink from a leaking leachate tank and address health concerns, while the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) was due to present a report on the landfill site.

Initially media and residents were told the meeting was a closed one, with facilitator Pravin Amar saying that it was “in-committee”, and therefore could only be attended by invited guests. EnviroServ’s public relations company, Corporate Image, had said that the media was welcome, but then backtracked.

“I was only expecting about 20 people,” said Amar, who had to change venues at the hotel to cater for the unannounced residents. He accepted that the meeting would have to be open to the public.

He accepted that the meeting would have to be open to the public.

“Actually, the meeting is open to everyone. We are not trying to exclude anyone. We just needed to know who was attending for logistical purposes,” he said.

Mark Gordon, the DEA’s Deputy Director-General of Chemicals and Waste Management, told residents and EnviroServ representatives that if attempts had indeed been made to bar the public and the media from the meeting, it was serious.

“The principle around these committees is that they are totally open and totally transparent. If there is a problem around that I will definitely have to intervene,” he said.

Repeatedly breached bylaws

The revelation that the company had repeatedly breached the city’s waste leachate discharge bylaws was met with anger. Residents shouted: “Someone is getting a back-hander!”, “Who is paying who?” and “To hell with fighting with them, shut them down”.

“Is the municipality happy to make money while we are being poisoned?” resident Lauren Johnson asked the municipal official.

Environmental activist, Desmond D’Sa, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said the monitoring process of the site had failed and that there needed to be new processes that kept the community fully informed.

He said the fact that EnviroServ had been repeatedly fined without addressing the issues was a travesty of justice.

He said the fact that EnviroServ had been repeatedly fined without addressing the issues was a travesty of justice.

“You have been fined and have done nothing about it. You are fully immune. This looks like it is a cover-up inclusive of a lot of people. We are calling for an open and transparent process, meaning we are asking to start at the top and the heads must roll of whoever was involved,” he said.

DEA was meant to give feedback

The DEA was also supposed to give feedback on its report into the landfill site, but according to Gordon, this report was not yet ready. He said the department’s enforcement arm had visited the site on Wednesday as part of a probe into the company’s compliance.

Residents heckled Amar and EnviroServ management, accusing them of stalling on compliance, lying to the public and not taking responsibility for the reported ill health of community members.

Dumisani Mkhize, the chairman of the Outer West Environmental Committee, said EnviroServ had stopped monthly committee meetings and decided that they only needed to be run twice a year.

“We said it was not enough, but they wouldn’t listen. Now we learn that the communities from far away made complaints to the media and many meetings have taken place without us. Why are the needs of the African community not important, but the needs of people on the monitoring committee are?”

He accused the authorities of allowing EnviroServ to do what it wanted

EnviroServ’s chief executive, Dean Thompson, said that EnviroServ had contributed to the odours in the area.

“I have said categorically that we are contributing towards the odour. All of our correspondence to date has said that we may be contributing to the odour. After the experts’ reports, we stated that we were contributing towards the odour,” he said.

“I am not going to second guess anybody here, but I am stating categorically for the record that we are contributing towards the odour. We are acting under instruction from the DEA at this point in time and we are fully cooperating. On behalf of EnviroServ I would like to apologise for our contribution towards the odour,” he said.

"On behalf of EnviroServ I would like to apologise for our contribution towards the odour,”
Thompson said that EnviroServ had spent R5 million since April to “fix what is happening” and that it would cost R10 million to “complete all the actions” that the DEA had insisted on.

He said EnviroServ acknowledged that it had to improve its stakeholder engagement

The company was also funding a toxicology report, he said, and it was currently busy with the terms of reference.

This resulted in him being jeered, to which he responded: “I need to make it critically clear that EnviroServ is an ethical organisation. Any assertions of impropriety are strongly denied. And I take exception to that. I have heard comments of bribery and corruption and I deny that categorically.”

Leachate is the liquid that drains from a waste site. It generally contains elevated concentrations of undesirable material from the waste.

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