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SULPHUR pollution from the Mondi paper factory in Durban has been reduced steadily over the past decade, but the company still appears to be one of the single biggest sources of climate-warming gases in the city.
Presenting a report to the eThekwini health department yesterday, the paper mill’s chief operations officer, Clinton van Vught, said almost 11 tons of sulphur dioxide air pollution was emitted daily in 1999.
This had been reduced to about 3 tons a day in 2005, and to about one ton last year.
He attributed the reductions to a series of cleaner production methods, including a R50 million equipment investment in 2005.
In 2008, a R200m multi-fuel boiler was commissioned to generate electricity by burning sludge, bark and other waste.
Van Vught acknowledged that current sulphur emissions were unusually low because two of the five paper machines had been mothballed as a result of the economic downturn.
Mondi South Africa and Mondi Shanduka Newsprint, which supply paper to The Mercury and other local newspapers, came under sustained pressure from community groups a decade ago to reduce air pollution levels in neighbouring residential areas in South Durban.
However, the mill still appears to be one of the single largest industrial sources of carbon dioxide gas emissions in the city, according to a peer-reviewed report published earlier this year by the Academy of Science of South Africa.
Based on electricity consumption and other sources, Mondi produced more carbon dioxide than any other industry in Durban, including the Sapref and Engen fuel refineries.
Gladys Naylor, the paper group’s environmental manager, said she was unsure whether the data in the academy report referred to emissions from the Durban mill alone, or to emissions from other Mondi mills.
The company added it had collected samples of dioxins, furans and mercury during 2010, and these were found to be below recommended European Union limits.
She acknowledged that such emissions were only monitored once a year and that the company had advance notice testing.
Dioxins and furans are highly toxic chemical compounds which can cause cancer and other serious health problems.
Neil Larratt, of the eThekwini health department, suggested that Mondi should consider monitoring emission of the toxins more regularly, while Desmond D’Sa, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, questioned the integrity of monitoring results based on single samples taken once a year.