Department of Environmental Affairs warns against non-compliance with environmental laws

29 November 2009

 

The Department of Environmental Affairs’ Environmental Management Inspectors (Green Scorpions) will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that those found flouting environmental laws of this country face the full wrath of the law.

This follows search warrants that were executed simultaneously in Gauteng, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal on the premises of Wasteman Group, a company responsible for managing and disposing of waste revealed serious contraventions of a number of provisions of the National Environmental Management: Waste Act.

This blitz comes just days after the release of the National Compliance and Enforcement Report (NCER) 2008/09 revealed that during the 2008/09 reporting year a total of 2 412 environmental criminal dockets were registered compared with 1 762 in 2007/08. The report reflected the work of all environmental compliance and enforcement officials operating at a national and provincial level, with certain sections focusing particularly on the Environmental Management Inspectorate (Green Scorpions).

The searches included Wasteman’s head office in Johannesburg, Wasteman incinerator at Klerksdorp in the North West province, Wasteman’s treatment facility in Durban KwaZulu-Natal and Maximus Bricks in Welkom Industria. The investigation has uncovered that hundreds of tons of waste are rather being taken from the two facilities in KwaZulu-Natal and North West to the Maximus Bricks site, to be illegally buried. This poses a significant health risk to the businesses and communities surrounding these areas, including the risk that significant harm may be caused to the environment (pollution of soil and underground water resources).

These searches confirmed that this company has been arranging for truckloads of medical waste to be buried at three different sites in and around Welkom in the Free State, instead of being treated and disposed of as required by law. The raid at the Maximum Bricks site in Welkom revealed that a significant amount of medical waste has been buried at the site, including sharps, viles, syringes, drips, dirty bandages and general medical waste. This is in contravention of a number of provisions of the National Environmental Management: Waste Act which came into effect on 3 July 2009. The maximum penalties for committing these offences are R10 million or 10 years imprisonment or both. The Green Scorpions at the site also issued the owner of the brick factory with a compliance notice instructing the closure of the site, the clean up of the waste by an approved waste management company and the requirement to make the site secure.

One aspect of the investigation focused on the burying and dumping of truckloads of medical waste in and around Welkom in the Free State; however, this investigation, with the support of the SAPS, also includes allegations of corruption and fraud.

The investigation revealed that hundreds of tons of waste are rather being taken from these facilities to the sites near Welkom to be buried as these facilities are unable to deal with volumes of waste brought to the site. This poses a significant health risk to the businesses and communities surrounding these areas. Medical waste includes anatomical waste (amputated legs, arms, placentas, foetus, ext), pharmaceutical waste (old tablets and medicine) and general medical waste (used syringes, used medical gloves, blood stained clothes, blood samples, ext) which poses a significant health and bio-hazard risk to the people that may come into contact with it, as well as a risk that significant harm may be caused to the environment (pollution of soil and underground water and surface water resources).

The group services a large volume of hospitals in the country, including private hospital groups, such as Medicross, Life Healthcare, Netcare and provincial hospitals which are situated in five provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, North West and the Western Cape).

At the other sites the execution of the warrants included the collection of documentary and electronic information as well as detecting non-compliance with conditions of applicable permits. At both the KwaZulu-Natal and North West sites, it was clear that there were several non-compliances. An urgent decision will now be taken as to the enforcement action required in relation to the two treatment and disposal facilities belonging to Wasteman, based on these contraventions.

The criminal investigation in relation to this waste management company will continue and EMIs will be monitoring the compliance notice issued to Maximus Bricks to ensure that the instructions are carried out as a matter of urgency. The department will not tolerate the blatant disregard for the stringent laws that are now in place to ensure that waste is managed correctly, especially when this disregard places communities and the environment at risk. Zero tolerance will be applied in relation to the medical waste sector. Compliance with the law is not negotiable and players within the sector must understand this.

Members of the public are urged to report environmental incidents and crimes to the 24 hour hotline number: 0800 205 005.

For media enquiries contact:
Albi Modise
Cell: 083 490 2871