Science & Environment

Top award for toxic dump campaigner

Desmond D'Sa, Goldman Prize winner 2014 (Image: Goldman Prize) Image copyright Goldman Environmental Prize
Image caption Mr D'Sa said he would not be prevented from standing up for the truth

An anti-toxic dump campaigner in South Africa has been recognised with a prestigious environmental award.

Desmond D'Sa's efforts resulted in the closure of a chemicals dump in a residential area of Durban, winning him a Goldman Environmental Prize.

The awards are described as "the Nobel Prize for grassroots environmentalism".

Mr D'Sa and five other winners will receive their awards on Monday at a presentation ceremony in San Francisco.

As a co-founder of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), he campaigned to raise awareness of the plight of communities living alongside the waste facility.

Among the schemes he oversaw were the "bucket brigade" and the "smell chart". The bucket brigade consisted of local residents collecting samples of air in their communities, which where then sent off to the US where they were analysed.

"When we got the results back, we developed a flow chart of all the different smells and odours so then people could be better educated about the chemical odours and the impact they would have on health," Mr D'Sa recalled.

With the data, Mr D'Sa and his team lobbied the government, which resulted in several health studies being done.

One of the studies showed that more than half of the 300,000-strong population had chronic asthma, he observed.

He added that the study also quantified cancer risk as 25-in-100,000 people, compared with the norm of 1-in-100,000.

"This was a conservative conclusion because the data was conservative yet it showed that the risk was very high and more needed to be done," Mr D'Sa told BBC News.

Paying the price

In 2009, the facility's operators applied to expand the site licence until 2021, but Mr D'Sa led a campaign to lobby officials, stating that the human cost was too high.

In 2011, the operators withdrew their application and the dump was closed.

"As a result, the trucks that carried all of the highly toxic waste through the communities are no longer there," he said proudly.

Image copyright Goldman Environmental Prize
Image caption Mr D'Sa is proud that the local communities no longer have to endure the dump

Other winners of the Goldman Prize, which honours and recognises grass-root activists, this year include:

Ramesh Agrawal, India - Using a small internet cafe, Ramesh Agrawal organised villagers to demand their right to information about industrial development projects and succeeded in shutting down one of the largest proposed coal mines in Chhattisgarh.

Ruth Buendia Mestoquiari, Peru - Overcoming a history of traumatic violence, Ruth Buendía united the Asháninka people in a powerful campaign against large-scale dams that would have once again uprooted indigenous communities still recovering from Peru's civil war.

Suren Gazaryan, Russia - Bat expert and zoologist Suren Gazaryan led campaigns highlighting illegal use of federally protected forestland along Russia's Black Sea coast near the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Rudi Putra, Indonesia - Biologist Rudi Putra is dismantling illegal palm oil plantations that are causing massive deforestation in northern Sumatra, protecting the habitat of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino.

Helen Holden Slottje, USA - Using a clause in the state constitution that gives municipalities the right to make local land use decisions, Helen Slottje helped towns across across New York state pass local bans on fracking.

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