The Department of Environmental Affairs said on 7 June 2011 that the case of illegal dumping of medical waste in Welkom was struck off the court roll on 30 May at the Welkom District Court, to give the state additional time to complete the investigation and to provide time for full disclosure of certain information.
Two of the defendants had requested the court to either withdraw or strike off the case, since the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA), which includes the environmental prosecutions specialist unit Green Scorpions, had misled the court by declaring ‘discovery’, and then continuing to investigate the complicated case, reports SHEQafrica.com.
DEA explained that on 9 February 2011, the state had said they would complete the investigation and supply the defence with a docket and indictment. The docket was supplied to the accused on 18 March 2011, “but unfortunately at that stage it became clear that… further evidence, which had only recently come to light, still needed to be obtained.
“The case will be arraigned in the High Court in Bloemfontein, relating to illegally dumped medical waste at Maximus Bricks, Welkom show grounds, a game farm, and an unused Harmony Gold mine shaft near Welkom, uncovered in November 2009,” confirmed the DEA.
The volume of medical waste illegally buried in Welkom totals to about 7000 tons. In enforced remediation, it was necessary to also remove soil that had potentially come into contact with the waste, therefore 18 000 tons of medical waste and soil was removed by Wasteman in compliance with a Compliance Notice issued by DEA for rehabilitation of the dumping sites.
The cost of rehab, completed in 2010, is said by defendant sources to be R60-million, reports SHEQafrica.com. Other sources noted R53-million.
Prosecutors ‘under pressure’
Magistrate Magda van der Laan made it clear that striking off the case temporarily, did not imply blame on any party. “The team of investigators and its prosecutor is working under immense pressure to maintain law and order,” she said, as cited in a local newspaper, Volksblad.
“The Court believes and expects that the case would return to the roll… some of the accused would not have been charged if the state did not have a clear cut case against them. We are not talking about a very long time before the trial could begin.”
Accused individuals, not company
Prosecutors could not clarify whether the accused would stand trial in their personal capacity. The list of witnesses was not finalised.
The accused were contractor and brick yard owner Gavin Brasher of Welkom, former Wasteman partner Neil Meiring, former Wasteman CEO Olivier Meyer, who is a Frenchman, former Wasteman CEO André Swanepoel and deputy Daniel Krynauw, game farm owner Willem Knoesen, his two sons Jubre en Jouge Knosen , and their transport company.
Wasteman divisions included Phambili Wasteman, Wasteman Holdings, Wasteman Group, Wasteman KZN, and Wasteman Health Care. Defence sources commented anonymously that the group and its contractors base their defence on some employees having ‘gone off on a frolic of their own without company approval’, incurring individual liability, and on having paid for extensive and expensive rehabilitation of the dumping sites.
Green Scorpions to save public
DEA investigators are praised for a good investigation, and the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) is criticised for failing to be equal to the difficult task of laying a forensic trail to accountable individuals or companies. The case could set a precedent in corporate and individual liability.
Wasteman was a French company operating in SA for eight years, then sold to South African owners in May 2009, retaining a French CEO.
Some earlier health care waste dumping scandals were resolved by the former DEAT granting temporary permits to disposal companies or rehab contractors to dispose of stockpiles at two licenced haz waste sites, Holfontein near Springs, and Vissershok near Cape Town.
Some Gauteng medwaste had found its way to at least one municipal landfill site in a rural area about five years ago, demonstrating that some authorities had tolerated bending of rules in various efforts to overcome the lack of cost effective haz waste disposal options.
Mail and Guardian commentator Lionel Faull wrote that elite environmental investigators Green Scorpions, a division in the department of Environmental Affairs, had ‘a temporary setback in a bid to rein in a rogue industry’.
“The good news is that the Green Scorpions are working – slowly, but methodically – to hold offenders to account. The Green Scorpions told me that 75% of medical waste disposal companies in South Africa face, or have faced, criminal charges for the kind of violations… the rot has spread to every province.
“Given the complexities of medical waste disposal, the tenders issued by government are worth big bucks but the number of competitors is less than 50… companies inevitably cut corners, supplying inferior containers, providing insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for their staff, not incinerating waste properly… dumping it somewhere.
“The paradox is that medical waste disposal is one of the most highly regulated industries in South Africa, governed by 18 different national laws, and a plethora of regional and municipal bylaws.
“Attempts at reforming the industry have been slow, and fraught with politicking. The medical waste branch of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA) split in 2009, with a breakaway faction claiming that reforming the institute was impossible from within. The African Medical Waste Association took about a fifth of the institute’s medical waste members with it.”
Medwaste industry talk shops
SHEQafrica.com had reported on the medical waste regulation, capacity and competition impasse last year. IWMSA had formed a semi-autonomous Health Care Waste Forum (HCWF) in response to the organizational breakaway, which achieved little more than rehearsing the obvious, allowing medwaste competitors to meet and align their service offerings, and making a vacuous video about ‘protecting public health and the environment from hazardous biological waste’.
As dumping scandals continued to break, the HCWF was re-constituted by the IWMSA in May 2011, at a summit that continued rehearsing aspects of the impasse, with mere informal participation by the relevant authorities.
IWMSA president Stan Jewaskiewitz said at the May 2011 summit that “ethics play a huge role in any form of waste management. Debate around ethics in medical waste is particularly important to achieve cohesion, integration and a proper set of standards that are clearly understood and effectively applied”.
He pleaded for “standards we desperately need in correct management of medical waste” since health care waste was “becoming an ever increasing problem in Africa”.
IWMSA and its Health Care Waste Forum came under fire in 2010 following the criminal case of medical waste dumping against sub contractors linked to Phambili Wasteman, of which former IWMSA president Vincent Charnley was a director.