Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

A number of trainers at the Summerveld training centre in Shongweni, KwaZulu-Natal, have expressed grave concerns about horses bleeding from their noses as an apparent result of toxic fumes emanating from the Shongweni landfill site managed by EnviroServ, the waste management giant.

Since 2015 residents of the area have accused the corporation of being responsible for a multitude of illnesses, including nosebleeds, asthma, bronchitis and headaches from the pungent fumes.

Trainer Paul Lafferty, whose stables are nearest to the landfill, said several of his runners had been affected.

"Every time the stench appears it blows into my stables first as we are on the perimeter. Horses come back bleeding profusely after just cantering on the track, which is not normal."

Lafferty said that members of his staff were also affected.

"When the fumes blow in on a bad day, my head lad’s face swells up and he seeps from his skin. His condition has been diagnosed as baritosis, which usually develops in people who chronically inhale barium sulfate dust."

Assistant trainer Roy Waugh said: "We have a mountain-to-sea breeze in the early morning and a sea-to-mountain breeze in the late morning, so horses and staff are always exposed. Our fillies, especially, lose their confidence after bleeding. It has long-term psychological effects, which can extend to the broodmare paddock with ramifications for the stud book.

"This landfill has to go away. It is the only toxic waste site in KwaZulu-Natal and it can destroy our training centre."

Toxic gases

The Department of Environmental Affairs closed down the EviroServ site in 2017, stating that it had suspended the treatment and disposal of waste because of an unacceptably high level of gases that had been confirmed to be the source of the bad odour.

In April 2017 the department found EnviroServ had failed to comply with laws and conditions of its landfill licence and said it had taken "a significant step to a permanent solution to a catastrophic situation".

Air quality NGO Upper Highway Air last week brought legal action against EnviroServ to interdict and restrain the company from conducting any of its licensed activities at Shongweni.

The NGO filed a combined summons in the High Court in Durban against EnviroServ; its MD, Dean Thompson; technical director Esmé Gombault; the ministers of environmental affairs and water and sanitation; the MEC for economic development, tourism and environmental affairs; and eThekwini Municipality. The NGO has asked for relief that in the event of the environmental affairs ministry not suspending or revoking EnviroServ’s licences, the company should be interdicted and restrained from conducting any waste management activities at Shongweni, except to carry out remedial action.

Thompson confirmed having received the summons.

Meanwhile the Green Scorpions’ criminal case against Thompson and the senior directors of EnviroServ has been adjourned until November 30.

Correction: June 20 2018

An earlier version of this story quoted an interviewee who said that dumping had been resumed at Shongweni Landfill. This was an assumption on the part of the person interviewed. There has been no waste accepted at Shongweni since April 2017. EnviroServ was not given an opportunity to comment on the claims made in the article. Business Day apologises for the errors.

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