Antoinette Slabbert
3 minute read
20 Mar 2017
7:10 am

Midstream points fingers at Lonmin

Antoinette Slabbert

Dirty air leaves residents of luxury estate gasping, battling health problems.

Workers walk past a Lonmin Marikana platinum mine, a site that represents industrial strife in South Africa. Reuters/Skyler Reid

Residents of the upper-class Midstream Estate in Olifantsfontein south of Pretoria are convinced that air pollution that leaves them gasping for breath emanates from hazardous waste from platinum producer Lonmin’s operations.

This waste, they allege, was dumped at JSE-listed waste management group Interwaste’s nearby FG Landfill site. After about a year’s engagement the department of environmental affairs (DEA) recently issued a directive for Interwaste to close the site on February 18 due to the complaints from the community.

Interwaste lodged an appeal and the directive was suspended, but the Greater Midstream Forum has appealed to the environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa to close the site nevertheless. She is still considering the request.

Lonmin has failed to respond to questions from Moneyweb, while Interwaste is bound to a confidentiality agreement with its client and could therefore not respond to questions relating to Lonmin. Interwaste did make available its external audit report, its hydrocensus report and its air quality and health assessment report, all compiled by independent consultants.

According to Midstream resident Anneline de Bruto her family moved to the gated community at the end of 2014 hoping to enjoy the safe environment. Their house was specially designed to utilise natural airflow and at first the windows and doors were always open.

Since around August 2015 they were however confronted with a terrible smell and by the end of that year they started getting sick whenever the windows and doors were kept open. This included eye and ear infections, as well as respiratory infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Unless the family keeps everything closed and sleeps with air purifiers, they wake up with burning throats.

De Bruto claims this happens whenever the wind blows from the landfill. She describes the offending smell from the landfill as sulphuric and says the gas is heavy and remains in the house even after the wind direction has changed.

De Bruto believes the source is calcium sulphite (CaSO3) and refers to disclosures in Lonmin’s 2015 sustainable development report under the heading “hazardous waste” that Lonmin produced 58 166 tons of calcium sulphiteduring that year, a 57% increase from 2014.

Another Midstream resident Lanette Hughes who lodged a complaint relating to the issue with the Public Protector in 2015, says officials of the Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development that licenses landfill sites stated at a meeting that the malodour originates from mining waste.

In its 2016 annual report Interwaste describes how it was able to reduce the high cost of disposing of hazardous waste through “innovative ways” including treatment and reclassification processes which allowed it to dump at non-hazardous landfill sites while still complying with legislation.

Asked whether such waste was dumped at FG, Interwaste responded: “The FG Landfill does accept small quantities of low risk hazardous waste, which it is entitled to do in terms of its licence and classification.

“All such waste is rigorously assessed at Interwaste’s state of the art laboratory in Germiston. The waste is also tested in an onsite laboratory upon arrival at the site. All non-compliant waste is rejected.”

This has been done since 2012, the company stated. Interwaste maintains that there is no scientific proof that the malodour in Midstream comes from its site.

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