Burning rubbish probe

JON HOUZET

THE Green Scorpions are investigating the burning of rubbish in contravention of environmental laws at the Marselle rubbish dump, following complaints by a resident who has endured years of toxic fumes.

David Burr, 75, a resident of South Gorah farm in Kenton-on-Sea, blames Ndlambe municipality for setting the fires and alleged there was a municipal directive that the fire department not respond to call-outs to fires at dumpsites.

But the municipality denies setting the fires and instead blames “scavengers” for doing so.

Burr, who has lived in Kenton for six years, said he had experienced the problem of noxious fumes from burning rubbish since early 2010 and it was affecting his health.

“I live across the Bushman’s River from the entrance to the Marselle dump, about 1,5km as the crow flies,” he said. “The pungent smell of PVC and other toxic waste fumes carried by the wind is overpowering and unacceptable to all the local population in the area.”

Bushman’s River Ratepayers Association chairman Dirk Meiring said residents of Nature’s Landing on the Bushman’s side of the river also complained about the smoke from burning rubbish.

He and his counterpart in Kenton, Simon Oliver, chairman of the Kenton-on-Sea Ratepayers Association, said they generally had issues about poor management of the dumpsite.

Burr said he had made calls and personal visits to the municipality about the issue since 2010, to no avail, so he started writing letters and keeping a record of all correspondence.

He also went to the Kenton police to complain about the issue, but said the police did not know how to handle alleged environmental crimes. They at least started keeping a record every time there was a fire, he said.

In a letter to Mayor Sipho Tandani in November last year, he said environmental health inspector Nombulelo Booysen, who has since been promoted to director of community protection services, had assured the problem would be resolved by the end of June last year.

But it had not.

He said Booysen had promised to visit his home in Kenton to assess the problem, and claimed she had done so when he was out, but Burr disputed this.

He received no response from Tandani and followed up his letter with visits to the mayor’s office in December. He was unable to see the mayor but met instead with municipal manager Rolly Dumezweni and Booysen.

“Dumezweni conceded immediately the municipality had a problem on the site and it was no use hiding the fact,” Burr said.

He said Dumezweni had undertaken to “do something” about the matter.

“There were nine large fires lit on the site between November 15 and December 8 and the fires go on unabated except for a brief respite between December 25 and January 2,” said Burr.

He was frustrated in his attempts to get the fire department to respond, and was incredulous when a fireman allegedly admitted that the fire chief had given instructions not to attend to fires inside the boundary fence of the dump site.

When he at last was able to meet with Tandani on January 30, Burr appealed for this instruction to be rescinded. “For the record, the mayor agreed,” he said.

The fire department did respond to a blaze at the dump on Sunday, he said, but only spent about 20 minutes there and did not extinguish the fire. “They say they only have to ‘contain’ the fire,” he said. “It carried on burning all that day and night.”

Municipal spokesman Cecil Mbolekwa did not respond to requests for comment, but TotT is in possession of a letter of response Burr received from the municipality, dated January 30, in which Booysen stated: “The department of environmental affairs prohibits us from carrying out burning operations of any sort”.

She said the municipality was in the process of rehabilitating the refuse site, but it was a lengthy process.

“Further, this office is not in a position to police ‘scavengers’ or fires made by them, should this occur after hours,” she wrote.

Fed up with the municipality’s slowness to act, Burr reported the matter to the department of environmental affairs on its Environmental Crimes and Incident Hotline, and received a reply this week.

Green Scorpions senior manager in the Eastern Cape, Div de Villiers, confirmed they were investigating the burning of rubbish at the Marselle dump.

“There have been complaints about that site,” he said. “There have definitely been meetings between our compliance and enforcement office in Port Elizabeth and the Ndlambe municipality. It’s a quite a long process when one government department is dealing with another. We give warning notices and warning letters.”

If Ndlambe was found guilty of contravening the Air Quality Act or Waste Act, it could face up to a R10-million fine, said De Villiers.

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