Olifantsfontein community and surrounds
groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)

COMMUNITY YET TO SEE JUSTICE DELIVERED AGAINST HAZARDOUS WASTE INCINERATION COMPANY THERMOPOWER

Olifantsfontein, Gauteng, 17 September 2013 – Just days after hazardous waste incineration company A-Thermal Retort Technologies (formerly known as Thermopower Process Technologies) burnt to the ground, the company’s directors, allegedly linked to corrupt tenders and senior members of the ANC [1], have for the seventh time manoeuvred around the justice system. It has been almost four years since the National Prosecuting Authority and the Green Scorpions investigated the company for worker safety and community environmental health issues contraventions [2].

According to a reliable source, the case, which was meant to be heard in the Kempton Park Magistrates’ Court tomorrow, has been postponed as witnesses were not informed of the court date.

A-Thermal has been the final destination for toxic waste from companies such as Eskom, Sasol, Afrox Gas and BASF and waste from the South African Development Community (SADC). The company’s operations have for many years been linked to worker and community health and safety issues, which came under the spotlight in 2009 when the Green Scorpions investigated the company after community members and workers alerted them to what was happening.

Kgomotso Modiselle, a community leader in Clayville, Olifantsfontein, expressed his frustration at the delay:

“We, the community affected by A-Thermal’s operations, question the significance of our judicial system in fulfilling its functions to protect us and our environment, if this company can get away with polluting use for so long. The company has seemingly succeeded in taking the seat in the jury box rather than in the accused stand”.

Despite the community’s relief at the company building having burnt down last Thursday evening [3], they demand that justice is served against the company, whose legacy of negligence has caused severe injury and even death to some of their workers and polluted the health of fence-line communities.

Community people here have complained of odours so strong they do not venture outside nor open their windows, and health impacts include severe headaches, and eye and skin infections. Horrific accidents have occurred to workers on site, such as eyes being burnt out, genitalia and other bodily areas being mutilated from chemical leakages and explosions, and in some cases fatalities.

Modiselle outlined the community’s demands:

“We demand that the company’s directors take responsibility for the violations of environmental laws and the impact of toxic substances that have entered the homes of the people of Olifantsfontein. No matter what happens we will continue to work hard to ensure A-Thermal’s crimes are not forgotten”.           
 

FOOTNOTES
[1] A-Thermal’s CEO Christos Eleftheriades more recent political affiliations have been with former ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema, who became empowerment partners in the Thumisano Waste Management Company. Eleftheriades’s company allegedly paid a monthly dividend of R136 000 into his partner’s company. Another of Eleftheriades’s Isibonelo Waste Solutions, won a R120 million contract over three years for the removal and treatment of medical waste in Mpumalanga, despite being taken to court. Around this time, Tshumisano had also been given a R200 million contract to remove and manage medical waste on behalf of the provincial health department in Limpopo.
For more information on old and new affiliations, read Mail and Guardian, “Waste company at centre of toxic storm” (25 July 2009) http://mg.co.za/article/2009-07-25-waste-company-at-centre-of-toxic-storm; City Press, “Malema linked to dirty firm” (18 July 2010) http://www.citypress.co.za/SouthAfrica/Malema-linked-to-dirty-firm-20100718; and The Sowetan, “Malema associate rakes it in despite lawsuit” (28 October 2011) -
http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2011/10/28/malema-associate-rakes-it-in-despite-lawsuit
[2] Thermopower Process Technology has been charged by the NPA and DEA for the following contraventions: (1) untreated and treated waste remaining on the site for a period of longer than the permitted (three months); (2) failure to dispose of some of the residue as legally required; (3) burying residue in one of the buildings on site; (4) disposing of residue in storm water drains; (5) storing waste in leaking containers not properly labelled and sealed; (6) treating healthcare risk waste and general waste together; (7) not submitting charge papers to the authorities; (8) not ensuring either that all residue generated in the treatment process was disposed of at a permitted hazardous waste landfill site on a regular basis or reclassified for delisting and disposal at a permissible disposable landfill site; (9) and not taking steps to ensure all floors were cleaned and disinfected.
[3] For more information on this incident, read http://www.earthlife.org.za/?p=2757
[4] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa, and increasingly Southern Africa, on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Air Quality, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International.

 

CONTACTS
Olifantsfontein:
Kgomotso Modiselle
Community leader
Mobile: 084 807 7121 / 081 017 9992

groundWork:
Megan Lewis
Media, Information and Publications Campaigner
Tel (w): 033 342 5662
Mobile: 083 450 5541
Email: megan@groundwork.org.za

Bobby Peek
Director
Mobile: 082 464 1383
Email: bobby@groundwork.org.za

Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance
Centre for Environmental Rights
groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)