Government is being sued for failing to crack down on some of the world’s worst air pollution emitted by power plants operated by Eskom and refineries owned by Sasol.
The case was filed in the high court in Pretoria by groundWork, an environmental rights organisation, and the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action, according to a statement sent by their lawyers, the Centre for Environmental Rights.
The so-called Highveld Priority Area, which includes much of Mpumalanga province and part of Gauteng, is the site of 12 coal-fired Eskom power plants, a Sasol oil refinery and coal-to-fuel plant owned by the company.
It’s also where almost all of South Africa’s coal is mined.
A Greenpeace study for the third quarter of 2018 showed that Mpumalanga had the worst nitrogen dioxide emissions from power plants of any area in the world.
“The environmental justice groups are asking the court to declare the current levels of air pollution on the Highveld a violation of people’s constitutional rights, and to force government to take meaningful action,” the groups said in the statement.
The plants also emit sulphur dioxide, mercury and fine particulate matter that causes illnesses ranging from asthma to lung cancer and contributes to birth defects, strokes and heart attacks.
In 2016, the air pollution caused between 305 and 650 early deaths in the region, according to a study commissioned by the Centre for Environmental Rights and carried out by Andy Gray, an American atmospheric scientist.
Worse than Beijing, Jakarta
Eskom has filed for permission to delay complying with emission limits at some of its plants. The environment ministry said on 9 May that “the desired improvements will not happen over a short period of time but rather progressively over time”, the groups said, citing a letter they received.
Sasolburg, where Sasol operates an oil refinery, frequently has worse air quality than Beijing and Jakarta, two of the world’s most polluted cities, according to AirVisual, an app that gives data on global air pollution levels.
Almost all of South Africa’s power is produced from coal and motor fuel made from coal, while natural gas accounts for about 40% of the country’s needs. — Reported by Antony Sguazzin, (c) 2019 Bloomberg LP