Recent research from the World Health Organisation reveals that air pollution is responsible for one in eight deaths globally. For people living on the Highveld in South Africa, these statistics represent a genuine threat.
People in the Highveld suffer disproportionately from health problems directly related to pollution from Eskom’s coal-fired power stations in the region. Instead of trying to address the problem, Eskom has applied to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) for exemption from meeting minimum air standards emissions for its coal-fired power stations.
Environmental justice NGOs groundWork and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, are calling for the DEA to fulfil its constitutional mandate to ensure that every South African lives in an environment not harmful to their health and well-being and to reject Eskom’s applications.
groundWork issued a statement on 3 July 2014, in which it argued:
South Africa’s air quality standards are weaker than the World Health Organisation’s guidelines, and yet they are exceeded on a regular basis, putting people’s health and lives at risk. The Highveld was recognised as a pollution hotspot by the DEA with the aim to monitor and regulate industry’s emissions to protect people’s health. Seven years have passed with no improvement in the air quality.
Recently, Eskom made public its health reports commissioned in 2006, which indicate the eight power stations operating at the time were cumulatively responsible for 17 deaths and 661 respiratory hospital admissions per year.
In response to Eskom’s claim in a recent newspaper article that the health statistics are incorrect, partner NGOs groundWork, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and the Centre for Environmental Rights have written an open letter to the Eskom CEO, Collin Matjila.
Eskom has applied for ‘rolling postponements’ – which amount to exemption – for 14 of its coal-fired power stations, claiming that to implement pollution abatement technology across its fleet would cost up to R200 billion. Most recent studies show that the cost to the state’s public health budget for illnesses related to coal combustion equals a similar amount of R230 billion.