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‘We were bad neighbours’ – Interwaste

Closing FG Landfill would be ‘irrational’, consequences ‘calamitous’.

In appealing a directive to close its FG Landfill site in Olifantsfontein, JSE-listed waste management group Interwaste has denied being the cause of a bad smell that has its neighbours in high-end Midstream Estate in Olifantsfontein up in arms.

The company did, however, admit to Moneyweb earlier that it had been “a bad neighbour”.

Interwaste has vowed to keep on fighting what it considers to be a procedurally unfair, irrational and disproportional directive by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to close down the site that generates about 5% of group revenue and 10% of its profit.

The group says the closure of the site, which receives about 60 000 tonnes of waste daily, could cost it R360 000 per day, leave Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni without a legally-compliant site to dispose of its waste and add R3 million per month to the waste disposal cost of the two cities over the medium term.

In its directive dated February 10, the department instructed Interwaste to cease all disposal activities within five working days, undertake certain specialist studies and report on the findings within specified time frames.

Interwaste immediately appealed the decision and brought a court order to suspend the directive while the appeal is pending.

The Greater Midstream Forum, representing residents of Midstream, however lodged an application with environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa to make an exception and close the site while the appeal was being determined. The department told Moneyweb that the minister “will now be urgently assessing all the relevant information received in this regard in order to make a decision on whether or not to suspend the directive”.

Should she decide not to suspend the directive, Interwaste is expected to go to court again.

In its directive DEA deputy director-general Ishaam Abader states: “There is evidence of pollution and environmental degradation taking place as a result of the FG Landfill site.” He refers to “thousands of complaints” based on “air pollution; including odour, burning eyes and skin, sinusitis, and other respiratory ailments. These complaints have continued even after the installation of the new flare,” he states.

The flare Abader refers to is part of a state-of-the-art gas management system that Interwaste installed at FG last year at a cost of R15 million. A further R3.5 million will be spent in the current year. The system will later form part of an electricity generation project that will deliver annuity income to Interwaste.

In an interview with Moneyweb, Interwaste CEO Alan Willcocks admitted to being “a bad neighbour” for about a year ended October last year. This, he says, was the unintended consequence of complying with new legislation.

Willcocks says FG is the first site in Gauteng to have complied with new legislative requirements by lining its landfill site with 1.5 mm high-density polyethylene. Older sites have clay linings or no linings at all.

He says that traditionally, significant gas formation occurs about four to five years after operations start on a landfill site. In the case of FG it happened after four months and caught the group unaware.

Willcocks ascribes this to the new lining that retains more moisture, which is conducive to the growth of bacteria, and says that as soon as the group became aware of the issue, it was reported to the department.

In its appeal, Interwaste describes how it has also covered its leachate dam in an effort to curb bad odours. The group relies on a report by environmental consultancy GeoZone, showing that the hydrogen sulfide levels on site have been reduced since the commissioning of the new flare. Interwaste states: “Even though the LFG Plant (the flare) has not fully stabilised, it is definitely having a positive effect and it is certainly premature to order the closure of the FG Site.”

The group says it has not been given access to the “thousands of complaints”, or the other documents the DEA relies on, which it contends renders the process procedurally unfair. It in fact questions whether there are indeed that many complaints. It says that from an earlier summary of complaints provided by the DEA, it was clear that a handful of people lodged the majority of complaints.

According to Interwaste, the Olifantsfontein area features several heavy industrial operations and there is no scientific proof that the malodour is caused by activities at FG. In any event there is no health threat that warrants the closure of the site, Interwaste argues.

It has proposed to continue operations but divert sulphur-rich waste that might lead to bad odours to other sites from the end of this month. This, Moneyweb has learnt, is mostly industrial waste. According to Willcocks such waste from platinum producer Lonmin has been diverted to Interwaste’s Delmas site for some time already.

Abader earlier rejected this proposal as “business as usual”.

Interwaste is also in a dispute with the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development about the validity of its license to operate FG. This is currently before the court.

Willcocks says the conduct of the regulators is not conducive to investment in the capital-intensive waste management industry. He says Gauteng is fast running out of landfill space and there is little hope that the necessary investment will come from the public sector.

Private sector investors, however, have to contend with irrational regulatory conduct that negatively impacts investor confidence.

Interwaste’s share price closed at R1.15 on Friday and has increased by 40% over the last year, 21% over the last 30 days and 5.5% over the last seven.

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Talk about a one-sided article. Where is the input from the concerned residents or the DEA that would make this a balanced article whereby readers could draw their own conclusion? More like a PR piece for Interwaste than real news.

I agree that this story is one-sided. What about the tens of thousands of Tembisa residents that live in close proximity to the Landfill? They cannot afford expensive lawyers and to date it does not appear that Interwaste (or the media) has given them a second thought. Perhaps because they are poor and black Interwaste believes that they can simply trample over their Constitutional right to a healthy environment. The health complaints are widespread across the area (I live in Randjesfontein) and there has been a significant increase in bird deaths. It is disingenuous of Interwaste to say that there have been only a handful of complaints. In any event, the “test” of whether or not Interwaste is breaking the law should not be determined by the number of complaints submitted: this is a matter to be verified by empirical analysis. That is,scientific testing of the air, soil and ground water.

This story is based on comments from Interwaste so I am unsure what was expected.

I don’t know much about this situation but on the base of it, if Interwaste is converting trash into biomass electrical generation then that is the sort of forward thinking action we need from the private sector. Regulations need to be strong for the landfill sector but they need to also be reasonable, if someone puts R100m into a landfill site then they can’t be shut down unless there is a very good reason. I also think the base of the complaint here applies to the fact there is a waste centre nearby, the reality is they need to go somewhere. It’s never going to be an ideal situation but if you can have a high tech processing yard then I would hope they can come to some agreement with the community.

It is not a case of environmental regulations being reasonable, it is about environmental regulations addressing environmental issues and preventing companies like Interwaste from not adhering to those regulations and adversely affecting surrounding communities (that were there before Interwaste). And as for your comment about IW putting in R100m into the site – does that mean that money is more important than the health of residents?

The journalist should have done her homework. Journalism is about providing a balanced article, public relations is about spinning a positive yarn. Which would you prefer on a news site?

Difficult to pin the smell problem on FG when the Midstream community have a large sewage works meters from their fence that services the Midrand area. FG will be full, capped and closed in a few years. Volumes to the sewage works will accelerate with further development.

Our health is being negatively affected, we were once again bombed with chemical gases this weekend, it was not sewerage! This needs to be resolved asap!

Not so difficult, the smell of sewerage os completely different to the smell of gases coming from the landfill.

The Glen Austin areas west and north west of the landfill do not have a sewerage treatment plant on their doorstep and are also suffering from the landfill pollution. It is not only Midstream

Interwaste executives should come and stay in the affected areas for a few days and then write an article about their experiences of living in the areas they are polluting!

Absolutey. When their families are exposed to these gases, and their children, start to vomit spontaneously, have nosebleeds, respiratory problems and chronic sinus, to name a few, we’ll see how much they like it. Same goes for all Interwaste shareholders, and the shareholders of the mines who have been dumping their hazardous waste at Interwaste’s FG landfill. But I guess it’s not their families getting sick and living in hell, so they don’t care.

Well I suppose Interwaste only cares about the impact closure would have on their financial position. Never mind the communities living around the landfill site. “Thousands of complaints” is, in fact, correct. The reason why residents don’t interact with Interwaste is because they threaten people who speak up. They should be ashamed of themselves, and so should you for publishing such a one-sided article. Shareholders in this unscrupulous company should be forced to come live next to the landfill with their families. They will see their children develop respiratory illnesses, have recurrent nose-bleeds, vomit when the gas hits their homes, then they’ll sing a different tune. And so should the Minister of Environmental Affairs, and the Lonmin shareholders. We’ll gladly give them accommodation in our houses so that they can experience first hand what the community goes through every day. It’s absolutely disgusting that they’ve been allowed to operate for so long. This problem has been ongoing for years and should have been addressed a long time ago. Since when is money more important than people’s lives?

Too little, too late. The residents of Midstream and surrounding areas are suffering severe ill effects from the noxious gases that have been spewed over our communities. The onus will be on Interwaste to prove that it is not coming from the FG Landfill site. The stench we are experiencing is not sewerage, it is chemical in nature, and we were woken once again during the early hours of Saturday morning with our noses and throats burning and a choking feeling in our chests. My child had a prolific nose bleed last weekend. We challenge the writer of this article and any other investigative journalists to please come and visit us when we experience the next series of anxiety provoking chemical and other smells! Our medical and sick leave records are proof enough.

Would be useful to have scientific evidence apart from complaints, to support any intended action. Anyone had sight of the results of the area borehole sampling that IW did last year?

Interwaste also claim in their sens announcements that air quality monitoring proves they are not the source of the pollution. Any action to close the site therefore needs to be able to scientifically refute this.

There are more parties than just Interwaste in this matter, the municipalities are also to blame as they don’t do impact studies before or after – they need to be held accountable for their actions or lack of research.
Many years ago we as a BMX club were offered a capped landfill space to set up a track – go in a bio chemist you stated it would be dangerous to use as a sports venue because of the gaseous discharges one being methane gas which is a bit of a silent killer – also once capped they are supposed to lie fallow for at least 25 years – a la the one opposite Makro in Strubens Valley

You sre still bad neighbours! We had to move from Midlands because of your site. My children got sick with constant sinusitis and tonsillitis. Expensive airpurifers, antibiotics and over the counter meds did not help to improve their health. They were never ever this sick whilst we lived in central London! They only recovered when we moved to Irene. Yet, we still get the terrible choking smell in Irene, but the concentration of it ‘ only ‘ gives us fatigue, nausea and asthmatic symthoms. Interwaste, you are still bad neighbours.

Regretfully another set of hysterical comments from most contributors.

Regretfully too not a single shred of evidence against Interwaste. The bottom feeder comment supposedly from a doctor who plays the race card.

In the article the author merely puts out a statement from IW and Abader and all hell breaks loose criticizing IW.

Clearly more facts are required before condemnation/blame can be apportioned.

Your comments are misplaced and illustrate your ignorance of the matter. The DEA currently has a court interdict against Interwaste. This is based on significant scientific evidence accumulated through a variety or pollution monitoring studies and not what you refer to as “hysterical comments”.
Interdicts are not granted by the courts based on hearsay.

Of course there is ignorance from most people.

That is why there need to be more articles giving full details from reputable sources. Not just hearsay comments that have some but limited value.

Have a nice chemical free day.

Hydrogen sulphide (or sulfide in the US of A) is an extremely dangerous gas and can be lethal if the concentration or duration (or both) are raised. It is for this reason that school and university laboratories use gas chambers for students to prepare H2S as part of their chemistry learning. It is this gas that gives rotten eggs their smell.

There is little doubt that the area suffers from a pollution problem.

The number of complaints cannot be ignored and the health and wellbeing of residents must be protected.

But there does not appear to be any proof that Interwaste is the cause of the problem. In our constitutional democracy we should guard against populist or emotive action and deal with the facts. Interwaste claims it has scientific proof that it is not the problem. Is there any information out there that paints a different picture?

Well said.

The scientific proof was provided to the courts and an interdict was provided so the comment about there not being any proof is incorrect. Scientific evidence in not populist or emotive action but fact and points directly to Interwaste as the problem.
Interwaste is attempting to paint a picture of them being painted as the bad guys by so-called “emotive” residents when if fact they are very well aware of the fact that they are the cause of the problem as indicted by scientific and independent studies.

1) If you are using scientific measurements the why does your g.c. instrument not pickup the gas that you neighbors are smelling.?
2)To put things into perspective. Light up a cigarette in a public building and you will be fined castigated, and maybe put into prison. A restaurant must have a specially sealed of room for smokers or it will be shut down! But the gas from your site can freely move into our homes while we are cooking and well we have to debate for years on end about the situation. Cigarettes come with a serious health warning. Your gas is not poisonous? H2s.SO2, to name just 2 are safe? I think not…..

I think IW was over charged for their flare.

@RSA. Now I am confused. I thought Interwaste went to court to interdict the Department. They then withdrew once when agreement was reached with the Department (as per their sens announcement). Surely if the Department had the scientific evidence you refer to they would have pressed ahead with opposing the court application rather than settling?

EnviroServ CEO cited in ‘toxic landfill’ charges.

News report of 23 March 2017 regarding the fact that Dean Thompson, the chief executive of waste management giant EnviroServ, will be charged criminally alongside the company on several allegations of contravening environmental legislation at EnviroServ’s Shongweni landfill site.

Is Interwaste next?

End of comments.

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