Two NGOs want Sasol, Eskom gone for polluting space

Sasol’s plant in Secunda and the NatRef oil refinery have now also been listed as messing up the air that people breathe.

Two Non-Profit Organisations or NGOs are heading to the Tshwane High Court to force the South African government to respect the constitutional rights of people with regard to the air pollution being caused by Mpumalanga’s Sasol and Eskom power plants. 

The NGOs want the Judge to declare the air pollution a violation of people’s constitutional rights and to force the government to take action to enforce the Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP) that calls for a drastic reduction of air pollution.

The organisations are GroundWork and the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action.

In a statement, the two NGOs said papers were served on Friday at the Tshwane high court and the concern is that government “is not holding the big polluters to account”. 

ALSO RELATED: Greenpeace challenges NUM to “engage on renewable energy”

83% of South Africa’s coal production is in Mpumalanga.

Of the utility’s 18 coal-fired power plants, 12 are in Mpumalanga. 

Sasol’s coal-to-liquids plant in Secunda and the NatRef oil refinery in Free State also have been mentioned as polluters. 

“The area has been plagued with deadly air quality for decades,” GroundWork said. 

GroundWork said in 2012 an air quality management plan was published by the government to clean up the air pollution but since then little had change.

Amongst those that the NGOs demand should account for Eskom and Sasol’s air pollution is President Cyril Ramaphosa, environmental affairs minister Barbara Creecy and air quality officer Dr Thuli Khumalo.

 (edited by ZK) 

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Africa Check: Greenpeace report not fair 

The report had also been criticised by NUM as a campaign to have Eskom privatised through the back door of the Independent Power Producers.

Fact-checking organisation Africa Check has questioned how Greenpeace came to rank Mpumalanga’s air the dirtiest in the world, suggesting the methods used were unfair.

Africa Check released its article this week following one by Greenpeace in October 2018.

It said the Greenpeace finding were flawed and the methods used to come to the conclusion that Mpumalanga air was the world’s dirtiest made “unsound comparisons”.

The environmental group Greenpeace based its report on satellite data that showed the province had the largest air pollution hotspot when compared to other countries, such as China, India and the US.

It said it produced the largest quantity of nitrogen dioxide emissions – which comes from combustion such as in car engines or when coal and gas are burned for energy and heavy coal use by Eskom’s 12 coal-powered plants was blamed for this.

Melita Steele of Greenpeace told Africa Check that the information on Mpumalanga’s air being dirtiest was from a satellite operated by the Dutch government and the European Space Agency launched in 2017.

She said Greenpeace’s finding was based on a data that covered the period 1 June to 31 August 2018.

These satellites monitor the quantity of dirty air “from a powerful eye in the sky”, Steele said.

Africa Check found that the satellite used by Greenpeace could not show at what height the nitrogen dioxide was situated.

Instead the satellite only showed that there was a certain amount of the gas in the entire column of the atmosphere.

Africa Check also found the nitrogen dioxide produced by these power stations were generally emitted at levels higher than where people breathe.

RELATED: Come, let us engage on renewable energy, Greenpeace hits back at NUM

If anybody needed to find out how much pollution is in the air that people breathe, other methods such as ground-based and aircraft measurements should be used with satellite measurements, experts told the facts-checker.

“A significant fault with Greenpeace’s analysis was that they jump from the concentration in the aerial density and emissions to say that the high number is equivalent to a high concentration at the ground level,” one expert told Africa Check.

The department of environmental affairs said the air we breathe was still below the national air standards, which should not be higher than 21 microgrammes per litre.

Last month Professor Rebecca Garland from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research told a Parliamentary committee that although Mpumalanga’s air was dirty it’s unfair to say it’s the dirtiest worldwide in comparison with other countries.

There were a number of reasons for this, she told Parliamentarians.

These included the seasons. Greenpeace’s data spanned South Africa’s winter months.

Therefore in winter the emissions would be most visible to satellites due to low dispersion. In eastern China, the eastern US and much of Europe, this peak occurs in January.

“This is comparing our peak almost to one of their lower periods. So it’s not quite fair. We would need more long-term measurements to say that,” Garland said. This would be at least a year’s worth of data, she told Africa Check.

Mpumalanga’s highveld was at a higher altitude, also making emissions more visible to the satellite, she said.

(edited by MLM)

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Come engage with us on renewable energy, Greenpeace tells NUM

Air pollution is listed as one of the biggest problems on people’s health.

Greenpeace wants NUM to come engage with them on renewable energy strategies.

This is also a challenge put forward by the environmental lobby group to other unions after NUM called the group’s statement “reckless” for releasing a report that said Mpumalanga air was the dirtiest in the world.

In response, Greenpeace said people’s lives are at stake as a result of air pollution and that “can no longer be ignored”.

“It is particularly important for our children who are most vulnerable to the devastating health impacts of breathing polluted air,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

“People’s lives are on the line, and air pollution is clearly a public health crisis that can no longer be ignored,” Greenpeace Africa campaign manager Melita Steele said.

NUM had this week shot down a recent Greenpeace report that was calling on government  “to set up an action plan with concrete steps” in dealing with the air pollution caused by coal-powered Eskom plants in the province.

NUM said this was an obvious campaign by the lobby group to push for the implementation of independent power producers (IPPs) resulting in job losses at the same time.

The union accused Greenpeace of pushing for the interests of rich people.

“If the power stations and coal mines are closed in Mpumalanga several towns including Witbank will be ghost towns,” the union’s Tshilidzi Mathavha said Monday this week.

“The reckless and impetuous statement is a clear campaign by Greenpeace Africa that the government should close power stations and coal mines in Mpumalanga,” said Mathavha, who is the NUM secretary in the Highveld region.

“If the power stations and mines are shut down‚ the economy of our country will collapse and the people will be left in darkness,” he said.

But Greenpeace wants the unions to come engage with them on renewable energy strategies.

Air pollution leads to a number of diseases, such as cancer and breathing difficulties.

It also leads to a range of long-term health conditions such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

“Exposing the truth about air pollution in South Africa is a must,” Steele said.

“What would be reckless would be to withhold information from the people of Mpumalanga,” she said.

“And to pretend that there are no alternatives,” said Steele.

According to WHO research, also released last week, 93% of the world’s under-15 population breathes in air that is “so polluted that it puts their health and development at serious risk”.

In 2016, air pollution killed 600 000 children around the world, and it is responsible for one in 10 deaths of children under the age of five, WHO said.

(edited by ZK)

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Air pollution kills, affects thousand South Africans yearly


Coal-fired power stations kill more than 2,200 South Africans every year and cause thousands of cases of bronchitis and asthma in adults and children annually, according to a report.

A report submitted to environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa, by a British air quality expert has shown just how dangerous the smoke generated by coal-fired power stations is.

Dr Mike Holland presented his report to the department on 6 September 2017 and then to members of parliament’s environment and health portfolio committees on 8 September 2017.

Holland urged parliamentarians to take these issues very serious when drafting laws.

The report shows that at the Medupi power plant over 360 people died, with 453 of the cases being chronic bronchitis. In the same Medupi area, Holland recorded 1552 cases of bronchitis in children ages 6 and 19 as well as 15 412 asthma symptoms in children.

At Matimba power station, a number of 262 people die each year due to respiratory illnesses, 210 at the Kendal power station, 204 at Lethabo and 192 at both Matla and Tutuka every year.

Click here to see Dr Holland discussing his report.

(edited by MLM)

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