Air pollution death toll rises by 170

Eskom has, in effect, said it either keeps polluting or it turns the lights off.(Gustav Butlex)

Eskom has, in effect, said it either keeps polluting or it turns the lights off.(Gustav Butlex)

The department of environment, forestry and fisheries is trying to, once again, double the allowable concentration of sulphur dioxide that industrial facilities can release. The previous attempt, in late 2018, did not include a public comment process. It was withdrawn this May and a 30-day window for comment started.

Research on Eskom done for the nongovernmental organisation Greenpeace — and included earlier this month in court papers filed in opposition to the deparment’s attempt — says this move will cause “an estimated 3 300 premature deaths” from Eskom alone.
Or up to 170 deaths a year.

The utility’s own data, shared in a parliamentary committee last year, say its pollution kills 666 people a year.

These deaths are despite new air quality laws coming into effect in 2015, which were meant to lower pollution from industrial polluters such as Eskom’s coal-fired power plants. The laws set the level of pollutants that smokestacks can pump out. More stringent standards come into effect in 2020. But the utility, along with its peers, have been granted permission to delay compliance.

Eskom has said that it cannot afford to meet the legal levels and that some of its plants will need to run until the early 2030s — constantly emitting pollutants at levels that are not considered safe. The utility has, in effect, said it either keeps polluting or it turns the lights off.

The analysis for Greenpeace doesn’t look at the effects of other industries being allowed to release more sulphur, so the overall effect will be worse.

The Mail & Guardian has previously reported on the dangerous levels of air pollution in all of the country’s major cities. In Johannesburg, for example, air pollution is unhealthy for half of the year. In Cape Town, the air is unhealthy for at least a quarter of the year.

Sipho Kings

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