South Africa needs “magic and divine intervention” to win the war against air pollution in areas shared by industry and communities.
“Brace yourself, colleagues,” the Department of Environmental Affairs air-quality spokesman, Tsietsi Mahema, said at the annual air-quality governance lekgotla in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal, yesterday.
He said the quality of air in the Vaal Triangle and on the Highveld was “bad news”.
“It doesn’t seem like we are winning the war. Next year’s news will be bad. Heaven help us,” he said.
Data from four of six monitoring stations showed that communities in the Vaal Triangle living near Eskom’s Lethabo power station, ArcelorMittal’s steelworks and the Sasol petro-chemicals plant were exposed to more airborne particles than allowed by South African standards or those set by the World Health Organisation.
Environmental Affairs Deputy Minister Barbara Thomson said: “The implication of this is that communities in air-pollution hot spots do not yet enjoy their constitutional right to air that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing.
“We intend to instal air-quality index billboards in these priority areas that will report the state of the air so that communities are kept informed,” she said.
Last month the report “Slow Poison: Air pollution, public health and failing government” accused the government of turning a blind eye to dangerous air pollution while several communities were inhaling toxic fumes.
But national air-quality officer Thulie Mdluli said yesterday that the report, by environmental justice organisation Ground Work, was inaccurate and that the government was dealing with non-compliance with the emissions policy.