UPPER Highway residents who attended EnviroServ’s report-back meeting last Wednesday, regarding the noxious odour alleged to be coming from the Shongweni landfill site, have labelled it a complete waste of time.
Brian Gibson, appointed facilitator for the meeting by EnviroServ, started the meeting with an introduction to EnviroServ’s representatives and its independent specialists, Margot Saner, Andrew Dickson of Geozone Environmental and Dr Carlos De Norbrega (corporate and occupational healthcare consultants), who were to engage with the residents and answer their queries.
Instead, residents believed Saner and Dickson presented a ‘tick-box’ presentation of what they could expect from the air sample test. The test results showed a slight increase in benzene and formaldehyde which, they said, did not pose a chronic health risk to residents.
Gibson said the results of the initial two-week sampling period at Plantations Estate suggested that there were other potential odour sources in the area. Residents were furious and called the meeting a failure, as the matter affects families and their children’s health which, they believed, EnviroServ was taking too lightly.
Residents have their say
Residents said the fumes were intense in different areas at different times, peaks and troughs dependent on wind direction.
Keith Moulder said he used to enjoy cycling in the Shongweni and Summerveld areas, but for the past 18 months, he and other cyclists have been affected by poor air quality in the areas surrounding the Shongweni landfill site.
Another resident said children from surrounding schools were getting ill, and some from Hillcrest Primary School have been diagnosed with chronic pneumonia. Parents were advised to visit a specific doctor when their children were ill and were advised that a rare strain of bacteria was responsible for an increase in Mycoplasma pneumonia in the area.
Dr Carlos De Norbrega said only an epidemiology study could establish if environmental conditions were responsible for health conditions, but such a study would take years to draw meaningful conclusions. However, there could be some helpful outcomes in the short-term if the study was designed appropriately.
Desmond D’Sa, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) coordinator and a Goldman Prize recipient 2014 (Africa), said he was shocked that a company with so many resources would present unconvincing and limited information to those affected and who have logged a number of complaints over a period of time.
“Why put up 2003 and 2009 data, which has absolutely nothing to do with complaints logged in 2015/16? Why did they not do proper air quality testing monitoring for this period, which could have given a much clearer picture of what is going on at the dumpsite? I believe that the reason was the community pressure and the company realising that it wouldn’t go away, and in hindsight tried to downplay the problem. In other words, for their own reasons, to divert attention away from themselves, they came up with a ‘tick-box’ exercise.”
D’Sa said his company had just started an investigation at the Shongweni Landfill site and at Aloes in Port Elizabeth, both owned by EnviroServ. He said EnviroServ’s Umlazi site was closed in 1997 after illegal and hazardous waste was found.
The way forward
D’Sa said EnviroServ needs a proper and inclusive stakeholder monitoring committee with representatives from all areas. He said they must meet and decide to develop the terms of reference for the type of studies that will be required to find a lasting solution. “We need someone whose work is not called into question and has a history of impartiality. I also believe the working group needs to map the complaints logged and then set up a sustainable air quality monitoring programme along the landfill site fenceline as well as in the affected areas over a longer period of time.”
DA councillor, Gillian Noyce, said she felt sorry for the resident’s of KwaNdengezi, as they are the ones who have to live with these conditions but are not being considered. “They don’t have groups like these to cause a fuss and stand up for their rights. The second Mariannhill landfill site will be directly in the middle of their area.”
She also said that upper Highway residents should have followed the development process of the Shongweni landfill site years ago, before it was opened. “When people’s lives are impacted by something they are quick to react, but do they actually follow the development process?”
Gibson said it was agreed at the meeting to establish a multi-disciplinary and representative working group to guide EnviroServ’s further participation in efforts to resolve the problem. It is envisaged that about 15 community representatives will serve on the working group alongside independent air quality specialists and senior EnviroServ executives to review the comments and proposals emerging from the meeting, and to draw up a plan for possible funding and support by EnviroServ and investigate other possible sources of the odour. The first working group meeting is planned for this Thursday.