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What a stink! Residents near RCL Foods plant call foul…

Residents living near the RCL Foods plant in Rustenburg say their environmental rights have been violated by the food manufacturer that has been operating in the area for decades.

“It smells like a pot of burning shit and rotting chicken,” say residents of Zinniaville of the RCL Foods factory and biogas plant that’s a few kilometres from their homes, and had its application for an atmospheric emission licence (AEL) rejected recently after operating without one for about three years. 

An AEL legally regulates the emissions released by a plant and ensures particular standards are met that do not pollute the environment and harm people’s health.  

RCL Foods operates three factories on its premises near Zinniaville, Rustenburg. Residents of the nearby community say the smell emanating from the facilities is nauseating and causes great distress, not to mention a violation of their environmental rights.

Rustenburg, nestled at the foot of the Magaliesberg mountain range in North West province, is home to about 550,000 people, mostly of working age, with almost a third of the population unemployed, and youth unemployment at about 35%, according to Statistics South Africa.  

Although the city is situated at the foot of a mountain range, Zinniaville is near two large platinum mines — a dusty, middle-class suburb surrounded by townships and informal settlements.  

The RCL Foods plant is situated on the boundaries of a mix of residential areas — Zinniaville, Tlhabane, Karlien Park and Seraleng. The company has been operating in the area for more than 40 years and its proximity to the residential areas is a consequence of apartheid spatial planning.  

Residents in the area have long struggled with odours from the Rainbow Chicken processing plant — a subsidiary of RCL Foods. But in recent years, the waste-to-value plant, which uses effluents and poultry manure to generate biogas, has added to the nauseating odour.   

The plant releases hydrogen sulphide, though the company says it has installed scrubbers to limit the odour. 

Commissioned in 2020, the plant was an effort by RCL to become more energy self-reliant and was authorised through a 2017 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Cassie Maree of Green Create told Daily Maverick.

It is unclear why the company never applied for an AEL at the same time as the EIA, as the two are usually applied for together. Green Create is a 50% holder in Matzonox, RCL’s waste-to-value operation that the manufacturer acquired in 2018.  

“The biodigester facility was originally designed according to the best-practice measures that were authorised during the original EIA process, as contained in the conditions of their 2017 IEA. However, it was found after plant commissioning in September 2020, that certain aspects of the plant seemed to be causing odorous emissions,” said Maree.  

Maree said investigations and solutions to address the odour had been conducted and initiated. However, residents say the smell has got worse since RCL’s AEL was rejected at the beginning of March. The food manufacturer only applied for the licence two years after it started operating….. Read the full article here

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