‘Unlicensed’ health hazard

The mysterious cloud of smoke which hovered over residential areas in Komani last weekend, turned out to have come from the burning of waste at the Ezibeleni “unlicenced” tip site, started by waste pickers.

The smoke could be seen from Top Town and at times Longhill was completely invisible, but residents from Komani Park and Laurie Dashwood had it the worst with some complaining about the possibility of chest and lung infections, among other health problems, due to the inhalation of polluted air.

The Rep visited the tip site this week and a security guard who did want to be named said the waste pickers regularly burned waste, which usually turned into a big blaze due to plastic waste products and would spread because of wind.

“The municipal water truck comes here sometimes to put out the fire. The one you are referring to was put out by them as it was very big. The huge clouds of smoke coming from here in the past two weekends were caused by the pickers. Some light the fire to warm themselves and some cook food items they find here.”

Waste picker Mzamomhle Pendu said fires at the dump site were a frequent occurrence as there were many smokers among the pickers.“This site is prone to fires. It happens on a daily basis. Sometimes we try to extinguish the fire, but it can be very difficult on windy days. People here smoke all the time even today (Tuesday) there was another fire – it has become the norm.”

A local businessman who did not want to be identified, said the burning of the refuse dumps had been a continual problem since 2015 with the municipality constantly violating the environmental safety laws of SA.“The highly toxic cocktail of chemicals given off by the smoke residue is extremely dangerous when inhaled. This presents all sorts of health complications including cancer. I cannot even begin to imagine how the residents of Ezibeleni cope with the choking smoke and how their health is being continually placed at huge risk.”

Residents on the Queenstown Civic and Ratepayers Association Facebook page expressed fury about the smoke, indicating that it was a health hazard and suggesting a march to the municipal offices to address the issue.

The Chris Hani District Municipality (CHDM) mayor, Wongama Gela, said the situation at the Ezibeleni dump site was worrisome, as it was virtually operating illegally due to it not being licensed.

“Through engagements with the department of economic development, environmental affairs and tourism (Dedeat), we found out that all tip sites in the district are unlicensed, except for the one in Intsika Yethu, and this is a huge concern. If we were to be taken to court because of this, the Ezibeleni dump site in particular could delay our proposed industrial park.”

Gela said the talks with Dedeat could possibly bear positive results as the department had suggested placing someone in the district to help mitigate the waste management matter.

“The department is also willing to assist us in the licensing of tips based on the requirements of the laws for tip sites. However, our main objective is to use this opportunity to ensure our towns are clean and by ensuring job creation in the process.”

The Rep reported (Lukhanji municipality to try to contain smoke from tip, June 2016) that EMLM spokesman Gcobani Msindwana said the site was experiencing problems due to waste pickers as the surrounding fence had been blown down.

Reacting to queries from The Rep this week, Msindwana said the municipality was aware of the issue and there were plans to rehabilitate the site. “The site is owned by the municipality. The problem is that scavengers are the ones that start the fire as they are looking for metals and other recyclable material. Fencing is then damaged and access control is compromised. We are currently sourcing funding through a municipal infrastructure grant in the next financial year, 2019/2020, to resolve some of the problems that have been identified.”

Contrary to Gela’s statement, Msindwana indicated that the tip site was licensed. “There are issues that we need to rectify as a matter of urgency such as access control and damaged fencing. The rehabilitation of used trenches or cells ensures that waste material on site is disposed of in trenches or cells and is compacted and covered.”

He added that the department of economic development and environmental affairs, together with the municipality, had recently conducted an awareness campaign on “anti-burning of waste with people scavenging on site as the target group,” during the month of March.

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