Doctors join protest against EnviroServe landfill site

Organisation: Position: Deadline Date: Location:

Dozens of doctors, specialists and school principals have given their support to a fresh legal challenge aimed at completely shutting down a landfill site they blame for a “big stink” and resultant health issues for residents of Shongweni and Hillcrest, in the west of Durban, reports News24.

Doctors, in affidavits supporting non-profit company Upper Highway Air’s (UHA) continuing dispute with EnviroServ Waste Management, all report seeing an increasing number of patients with allergic rhinitis and asthma.

“The health impacts associated with the odour are real,” said Dr Yvonne Reece. Paediatrician Dr Jayendra Narsai said he had noticed a “marked increase” in upper and lower respiratory infections “directly related to when the smell is the strongest”.

“Children have recurrent episodes of bronchitis and have been admitted to hospital for bronchopneumonia. In my view, this should be dealt with as a medical emergency.”

Writing on behalf of four schools, with a total of 4 600 pupils, the acting head of Highbury Preparatory School, Belinda Willows, said teachers and parents are “deeply concerned about the chemical smell which appears to be getting worse”.

The report says UHA will be back in court next week, asking a judge to grant an order interdicting EnviroServ from receiving, treating and disposing of any waste at its Shongweni site. This will be until the outcome of an intended appeal by the company against the Department of Environment Affairs’ suspension of part of its waste management licence.

UHA says EnviroServ is in breach of the compliance notice because it has refused to hand over a copy of a toxicology report to the department. UHA says this is a “criminal offence”. UHA director Lauren Johnson in her affidavit said as a result of increasing complaints from the community, certain parts of EnviroServ’s licence conditions were suspended by the department earlier this month. Although UHA had yet to see the documentation, EnviroServ claimed to have lodged an appeal against this suspension.

Johnson said the study was to determine the impact on health and the “suite of pollutants” in the landfill gas emanating from the site, the concentrations, and what gasses were affecting which communities. According to the report, she accused EnviroServ of making “serious misrepresentations” about the need for it to continue trading so that it can speed up remediation steps necessary to address the gas emissions.

“It claims that the pH levels within the waste body are at the core of the odour problem and continued receipt of specific waste streams are necessary to see a continued rise in the site’s pH levels… but the adjustment of the pH level via incoming waste is futile for addressing the emissions over the short to medium term, if ever.”

“Landfill cover does not need to come from waste. It can be purchased. The only excuse for this is the company will be getting paid for remedial measures as opposing to have to pay itself,” Johnson insisted.

EnviroServ is expected to oppose the application, the report says. It is quoted as saying that the suspension notice was premature and based on incorrect technical and scientific conclusions. “Our expert reports will form the backbone of our defence to both civil and criminal charges which have been brought against the company.

“Our experts say the landfill must continue to receive specific waste streams to see a continued rise in pH levels.

“We maintain the site is compliant in all regards and we have concrete evidence that it is not the only contributor to the odour problem,” group CEO Dean Thompson said.

News24 report

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