Fighting for Clean Air in South Africa

November 21, 2003

Dear Friends:

Collaborating with partners in South Africa, E-LAW U.S. is helping keep the air clean. We have helped derail proposals for six ill-conceived toxic waste incinerators. Many of these incinerators would have been located in poor neighborhoods and used outdated technologies.

E-LAW U.S. Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik’s work helping partners at the Legal Resources Centre challenge yet another hazardous waste incinerator was recently reported in The Natal Witness, South Africa`s oldest daily newspaper.

The paper reported that Mark evaluated the company’s Air Quality Impact Study for an incinerator proposed for Shongweni (outside Durban) and concluded that the company’s justification for building an incinerator to treat medical waste could be likened to using a gun to kill a mosquito!

A copy of the press report is pasted below.

Discharges of dioxin, mercury, chromium, and arsenic from the incinerator proposed for Shongweni could threaten the health of local residents. I am pleased that we are able to help LRC push for clean air.

The air may be the ultimate “global commons” — we all share the air and need to work together to protect it. Please consider giving a gift to E-LAW U.S. today, so we can help grassroots advocates at LRC and around the world win the fight for clean air.

Thank you!

Bern Johnson
Executive Director

The Natal Witness
November 10, 2003 (SA)

Furor over waste incinerator
By Craig Bishop

Pietermaritzburg - Green activists are up in arms over a proposal by waste disposal company Enviroserv to build a medical waste incinerator at Shongweni outside Durban.

Last year, South Africa ratified the Stockholm Convention, an agreement to reduce the emission of the pollutants emitted by incinerators. The World Health Organisation also recommends against the burning of medical waste.

Environmentalists claim a draft environmental report (EIR) about the impact of an incinerator at Shongweni is flawed and misleading, that the incinerator will release deadly chemicals into the landscape and that existing incinerators operated by rival company Compass Waste are 40% under-utilised.

A Gun to Kill a Mosquito

Earthlife Africa and groundWork requested Dr Mark Chernaik, staff scientist at the US office of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, conduct a critical evaluation of the draft EIR and Air Quality Impact Study. He concluded that Enviroserv`s justification for building an incinerator to treat pharmaceutical and chemical wastes could be likened to justifying the use of a gun to kill a mosquito.

More than 5,600 objection letters have been sent to NGOs and the provincial department of agriculture and environmental affairs. Concerns include the ineffective control of emissions of dioxins and mercury. Exposure to dioxins is linked to a variety of health effects, including low sperm counts, immunotoxicity, reproductive and developmental effects, and cancer.

Pregnant mothers transfer some of their body burden of these chemicals to the foetus before birth and during breastfeeding. The developing foetus and the breastfeeding infant is then exposed to these chemicals at the highest levels during vulnerable developmental phases.

Chernaik said the draft EIR wrongly concludes that incineration is the preferred method for the disposal of pharmaceutical and chemical wastes, as opposed to autoclaving. He also said the Air Quality Impact Assessment shows that the incinerator will emit carcinogenic levels of chromium and arsenic.

"The draft EIR fails to describe how Enviroserv will monitor stack emissions of toxic pollutants and to investigate the impacts of toxic pollutant emissions on future development plans for Shongweni," he said, adding that national environmental affairs and tourism minister Valli Moosa stated recently that SA does not have the capability to monitor incinerator emissions adequately.

Earthlife`s research has revealed that medical waste incinerators of the type Enviroserv proposes to build in Shongweni would release 525 to 3,000 micrograms of dioxin per metric ton of waste incinerated. These rates are 100 to 500 times higher than what Enviroserv assumes.

Earthlife and groundWork point out that if dioxin emission rates are 500 times higher than Enviroserv assumes, then the predicted cancer risk from exposure to dioxins of persons living nearby the incinerator will be 1:42,000, not 1:21,000,000 as Enviroserv claims.