Air pollution costs SA R4bn in healthcare

Air pollution is responsible for more than R4-billion in health costs, the Department of Environmental Affairs said on Monday.

“Healthcare costs associated with the burning of fossil fuels amount to R4-billion,” the department’s national air quality officer Peter Lukey told reporters in Vanderbijlpark at the Air Quality Governance Lekgotla.

He said the poor were disproportionally affected by air pollution.

“They carry a double burden because firstly they are poor and secondly they are sick.”

The poor often live in poorly ventilated areas and use coal fires for heat and cooking.

In addition to this, Lukey said during apartheid times living areas for the poor were often designated in areas downwind from industrial plants as no one else wanted to live there.

“That’s a legacy we have to manage,” said Lukey.

The Department of Environmental Affairs released a report at the lekgotla to provide a “baseline” for future progress.

“What we are doing is creating a baseline of air quality,” said Lukey.

The report describes air quality in 2005 when Parliament passed new, tougher legislation—the Air Quality Act.

The 2005 research would be used to measure whether air pollution was being adequately managed by the government.

“Anybody, and everybody should, compare how we progress to what was there in 2005,” he said.

“We’re creating a tool so the public can see how we perform.

“In essence, what we have done is create a rod for our own backs.”

The department’s Deputy Minister, Rejoice Mabudafhasi, said in her prepared remarks to the lekgotla that the report would go beyond research on standards and would analyse the state of air quality in South Africa.

“Not only does it explain the state of air quality using the year 2005 as a baseline, but it also provides a detailed and in-depth analysis,” she said.

“The report showcases cost-effective air quality monitoring systems, the alignment of air quality to sustainable development, flexible approaches to reducing the impact of air pollution and a cost benefit analysis of strategies used to reduce emissions.”

Mabudafhasi said the 2005 legislation was written with the cooperation of industry to create standards and empower the government to take stronger action against them when they do not meet those standards.

“We will do arrests and make all kinds of fines,” she said.

“Those who do not follow the [Air Quality Act] will face the law. Finish and klaar.”

Many of the responsibilities for monitoring the air quality have been passed to the municipalities and provincial governments.

Sedibeng executive mayor Mahole Simon Mofokeng said monitors were already at work and a “fully-fledged” task force would be in place by 2011.

Sedibeng includes the Vaal Triangle, home to many of South Africa’s largest industries and one of the places with the worst air quality in the country.

Lukey said the report did bring some good news. According to the research, air pollution could be managed in a way that assists, not impedes, development.

He cited an industrial area in Durban whose growth had hit a plateau because the local community could not stand any more air pollution. But after dramatic reductions in air pollution, more factories could be built.—Sapa

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