Govt declares Highveld regions air-pollution hot spots

The Highveld regions of eastern Gauteng and western Mpumalanga, including towns such as Witbank, Standerton, Boksburg and Benoni, among others, have been declared air-pollution hot spots.

“There is little doubt that people living and working in these areas do not enjoy air quality that is not harmful to their health and well-being,” the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism said in a statement on Monday.

For residents of the heavily polluted region, home to various air-polluting industries and coal-fired power stations, government’s recognition of the fact that they actually get to see the air they breathe means relief may follow, though not immediately.

Developing a plan to start tackling the problem could take up to two years.

The hot-spot declaration, made by Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk in terms of the 2004 Air Quality Act, compels the affected municipalities and other authorities to start tackling their air-quality problems.

The official pronouncement of the so-called “Highveld Priority Area” was made in the Government Gazette on Friday last week.

“In declaring the Highveld Priority Area, the minister is satisfied that a situation exists within the area which is causing, or may cause, a significant negative impact on air quality, and that the area requires specific air-quality management action to rectify the situation.

“In order to address the minister’s concerns, the department, together with the affected provincial and municipal departments, must now develop an air-quality management plan for the area,” the statement said.

“In this regard, the minister has allowed the department two years in which to develop the plan to his satisfaction.”

According to the department, about 3,6-million people live in the designated hot spot, which covers an area of 31 106 square kilometres.

“The hot spot is defined as the area that extends from the eastern parts of Gauteng to Middelburg in the north and the edge of the escarpment in the south and east.

“Major towns occurring within this region include Witbank, Middelburg, Secunda, Standerton, Edenvale, Boksburg, Benoni and Balfour. The area incorporates portions of the Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces.”

It included several sources of air pollution, including a range of industrial, mining and agricultural activities.

Among these were power stations; timber and related industries; metal smelters; petrochemical plants; brick and stone works; mines (primarily coal mines); fertiliser and chemical producers; explosives producers; charcoal producers; and other small additional industrial operations.

“Although, in broad terms, South Africa’s air quality is not regarded as being an overall problem, there are many localised areas that suffer extremely poor air quality,” the department said.

To allow broad participation in the development of the plan, it had invited nominations for membership of a “multi-stakeholder reference group” from interested and affected parties.—Sapa

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