EXTERNAL REPORTING OF ENVIRONMENTAL INCIDENTS
National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 (NEMA) – Section 30
Reasonable measures to clean up pollution and to prevent pollution from recurring and external reporting
What is an incident in terms of section 30 of NEMA?
“Incident” means an unexpected, sudden and uncontrolled release of a hazardous substance, including from a major emission, fire or explosion, that causes, has caused or may cause significant harm to the environment, human life or property. For example, a large oil spill into storm water systems.
What should be done if such an incident occurs?
Contain and minimise the effects of the incident
The responsible person or, where the incident occurred in the course of that person’s employment, his or her employer, must, as soon as reasonably practicable after knowledge of the incident –
(a) take all reasonable measures to contain and minimise the effects of the incident, including its effects on the environment and any risks posed by the incident to the health, safety and property of persons;
(b) undertake cleanup procedures;
(c) remedy the effects of the incident;
(d) assess the immediate and long-term effects of the incident on the environment and public health.
Initial reporting – after knowledge of the incident
The responsible person or, where the incident occurred in the course of that person’s employment, his or her employer must forthwith after knowledge of the incident, report through the most effective means reasonably available –
(a) the nature of the incident;
(b) any risks posed by the incident to public health, safety and property;
(c) the toxicity of substances or by-products released by the incident; and
(d) any steps that should be taken in order to avoid or minimise the effects of the incident on public health and the environment to
(i) the Director-General;
(ii) the South African Police Services and the relevant fire prevention service;
(iii) the relevant provincial head of department or municipality; and
(iv) all persons whose health may be affected by the incident.
Subsequent reporting – within 14 days
The responsible person or, where the incident occurred in the course of that person’s employment, his or her employer, must, within 14 days of the incident, report to the Director-General, provincial head of department and municipality such information as is available to enable an initial evaluation of the incident, including –
(a) the nature of the incident;
(b) the substances involved and an estimation of the quantity released and their possible acute effect on persons and the environment and data needed to assess these effects;
(c) initial measures taken to minimise impacts;
(d) causes of the incident, whether direct or indirect, including equipment, technology, system, or management failure; and
(e) measures taken and to be taken to avoid a recurrence of such incident.
Who is this “responsible person”?
“Responsible person” includes any person who is responsible for the incident, owns any hazardous substance involved in the incident; or was in control of any hazardous substance involved in the incident at the time of the incident.
May the Government Department direct me to take specific measures to contain/ minimise the effects of the incident?
Yes. A relevant authority may direct the responsible person to undertake specific measures within a specific time to fulfil his or her obligations, provided that the relevant authority must, when considering any such measure or time period, have regard to the following:
(a) the principles set out in section 2 of NEMA;
(b) the severity of any impact on the environment as a result of the incident and the costs of the measures being considered;
(c) any measures already taken or proposed by the person on whom measures are to be imposed, if applicable;
(d) the desirability of the State fulfilling its role as custodian holding the environment in public trust for the people;
(e) any other relevant factors.
A verbal directive must be confirmed in writing at the earliest opportunity, which must be within seven days.
What if I refuse to adhere to the directives received from the Government Department?
A relevant authority may then take the measures it considers necessary to contain and minimise the effects of the incident, undertake cleanup procedures and remedy the effects of the incident. The relevant authority may claim reimbursement of all reasonable costs incurred by it in terms of subsection (8) from every responsible person jointly and severally.
If an incident occurs, how can I know whether it is externally reportable in terms of section 30 of NEMA?
If the environment outside the boundaries of your operation is likely to be impacted by the incident i.e. water pollution or radiation.