Authorities issue notice to revoke waste licence as marchers join ‘toxic trek’ protest

Desmond D'Sa at a meeting to discuss Enviroserv in September 2016.

FOLLOWING months of massive public outcry, including campaigns and meetings hosted by the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has taken decisive action against Enviroserv.

A notice of intention to suspend and/or revoke EnviroServ’s waste management license for its Shongweni landfill site was issued on Friday, 3 February.

This follows meetings in South Durban and Shongweni and surrounds in 2016, calling for the closure of the site following complaints of malodour and ill health. Concern in South Durban centred around a number of public meetings hosted by SDCEA in 2016 and attended by community members and environmental and health officials. At those meetings, residents called for action against Enviroserv and other companies for deposting its waste at the Southern Treatment Works, which pumps waste out to sea via a marine outfall at Cuttings Beach, with the municipality’s approval.

According to the municipality and DEA, the notice to suspend and/or revoke EnviroServ’s licence was prompted by investigative findings of the Green Scorpions in collaboration with the eThekwini Municipality in January. This followed a significant increase in receipt of malodour and health-related complaints linked to the operations of the site.

The company was given four calendar days to make representations as to why its waste management license should not be suspended and/or revoked.

“Despite many interventions implemented by EnviroServ to comply with the instructions contained in the compliance notice, there is still an unacceptably high level of landfill gases being emitted from the Shongweni landfill site, which the authorities have confirmed to be the cause of many of the communities’ complaints,” read a statement issued by the DEA and eThekwini Municipality.

According to the DEA, intermittent complaints regarding the Shongweni site were received during the early part of 2016, especially from those living nearby.

“Being health and odour-related, several complaints were referred to local health authorities as at the time, the company did not agree that they were the main source of the problem.

The DEA then undertook a compliance inspection in May,” read the statement.

Following a meeting between affected parties in August, EnviroServ provided an outline of remedial action to be taken to the DEA.

“The department’s deputy director-general of chemicals and waste management shortly thereafter issued EnviroServ with a letter of instruction which identified measures which needed to be undertaken immediately in order to reduce and mitigate some of the odour and health related issues

To address the issues raised in the letter, EnviroServ provided the department with an 11-point action plan, which indicated how the facility will be implementing the measures and included inter-alia, the extended suspension of the acceptance and disposal of all type 1 wastes; a commitment to decant and dispose of all stored leachate and contaminated storm water offsite; to convene an urgent monitoring committee meetings; to provide a detailed leachate and stormwater management plan; to undertake a toxicological study and technical assessment of the site and to provide a detailed inventory of all waste streams accepted by the site.

This plan has since however been superceded by a pre-compliance notice in terms of section 31L of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 and subsequent compliance notice (CN) dated 21 October 2016, which incorporated a number of the aspects stipulated in the 11-point action plan into the instructions contained in the CN.

These enforcement notices followed further inspections conducted in August.

Since the CN has been issued, EnviroServ has provided proof of compliance in relation to certain of its instructions, while the timeframes for compliance with a few of the other instructions have been varied.

A second variation request has also been received by the department. The department is also in possession of a suspension request, as well as an objection relating to some instructions in the CN.

EnviroServ formally requested that certain instructions contained in the CN be suspended until the objection process has been completed.

Both the suspension request and objection are currently being considered by the director general and minister.”

Action was also taken by eThekwini Municipality in 2016 to reduce the validity period of the scheduled trade permit issued to EnviroServ. Instead of an annual review, the validity period of the permit is now being reviewed on a monthly basis.

Along with administrative enforcement actions, the Green Scorpions started a criminal investigation into EnviroServ following a search of the site in September.

“The search found that EnviroServ had failed to comply with the provisions of environmental law and certain conditions of the waste management licence, which was issued in terms of the National Environmental Management Waste Act, 2008.

The National Prosecuting Authority is currently in the process of reviewing the docket and will thereafter make a decision on whether or not (and which parties) to prosecute,” concluded the statement.

The SDCEA has reacted positively to the decision to take action against EnviroServ. Co-ordinator, Desmond D’Sa called it a massive victory for the residents of Upper Highway.

“The residents of South Durban came out in their numbers at the public meetings and said in no uncertain terms they were prepared to fight together with Upper Highway residents to stop this waste going into the sea.

We, as the monitoring task team of Shongweni opposed and called in the Green Scorpions and DEA to investigate and seize a number of documents. The actions of the DEA and the Green Scorpions have resulted in the site closure for hazardous waste but importantly there are criminal charges against the company which we welcome.

The collective action of the Upper Highway communities and South Durban residents has brought pressure to bear on government to act in the interest of people instead of profit. This victory has shown together we are strong,” said D’Sa.

Showing how determined they were for action; residents took to the street for a ‘toxic trek’ on Saturday, 4 February, calling for the closure of the site. Police had issued permits for 1,000 people to participate, however on the day these restrictions were relaxed and more people joined in.

They walked through and ended the march with a memorandum given to officials and EnviroServ.

Dean Thompson, EnviroServ Group CEO, said they were surprised to receive the notice from the DEA last week and that they will motivate why it was unnecessary.

“In the interim we remain a compliant and legal site. It is unfortunate that the department has succumbed to public opinion and has been forced to inexplicably deviate from the agreed remedial processes that we have complied with, and will continue to implement. There is no scientific evidence to link EnviroServ to the odour as the DEA-requested technical and toxicology studies are still underway.

With the DEA’s permission, we have reverted to treating incoming waste to the minimum requirement standards that existed prior to the introduction of the waste management regulations during August 2013. This has been the primary cause of the recent odour problems experienced at the site. The revised treatment standard has immediately benefitted the situation as pH levels of the site have shown a marked improvement and will continue to do so as we continue to receive waste streams so treated. During last week’s visit by the DEA, officials commented favourably on the odour improvement in the treatment plant area.

The department’s investigation into potential contraventions of legislation is still preliminary and inconclusive. We are liaising with the investigation unit and have agreed timeframes for the submission of outstanding information and representations. This information still needs to be considered before any decisions are made,” said Thompson.

 

 

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  AUTHOR
Erin Hanekom
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