Eskom lied to hide its deadly levels of pollution

COMMENT

Eskom lied about the levels of its pollution, according to a compliance notice issued by the environment department to the utility’s Kendal power plant.

Kendal is crucial to Eskom. It is the biggest and most stable plant in the fleet. In August 2018, parts of the 4100-megawatt plant in Mpumalanga were broken during industrial action by employees. Air pollution controls were hit hard. This resulted in excessive pollution — black plumes pumped into the already dirty air of that province.

Eskom says its air pollution kills more than 300 people a year. Other estimates put it at 10 times that. Tens of thousands of people go to hospital with respiratory problems.

Air quality laws, which came into effect in 2015 and which the utility was part of drafting, were meant to force companies to lower their levels of pollution. On Kendal, Eskom promised it was reducing the plant’s pollution. But the compliance notice says otherwise. Obtained through a Promotion of Access to Information Act request by the Centre for Environmental Rights, its details were shared by energy expert Chris Yelland.

The notice demanded that Eskom shut down two units at Kendal and give the department a plan of what it should do to reduce pollution.

In the notice, the department says Kendal’s Unit 1 has been operating at 13 times the legal limit — despite Eskom saying that it had been mended. It then says the data presented for Unit 5 was a “gross misrepresentation of facts” and that the utility deliberately used the wrong methodology to calculate its emissions. This, it says, “puts the entire data presented and the claimed [emission] reductions in question”.

The department says “none of the commitments made/action plans submitted to the department have resulted in any of the units being in compliance” and concludes that it “does not believe that the current action plans will result in compliance”.

Compliance notices are the government playing nice. Imagine being caught for breaking the law and then being given a chance to change your behaviour, rather than getting a fine or being sent to jail. In this case, Eskom got caught, was asked to do the right thing and then didn’t take action but said it had.

How this goes from here is crucial. Eskom is responsible for 40% of South Africa’s carbon emissions. It’s the biggest polluter in Africa. In the past, it has promised action but then threatened to shut down the grid. It resorted to blackmail and threatened our future. And then lied.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.


The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Sipho Kings
Sipho is the Mail & Guardian's News Editor. He also does investigative environment journalism.
Advertising

Coalition politics and law: The fight over Tshwane

With coalition politics on the rise, particularly in local government, this kind of court case is likely to become more common

High court declares Dudu Myeni delinquent

Disgraced former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni has been declared a delinquent director by the...

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread
Advertising

Press Releases

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday