SASOL’S synthetic fuel plant in Secunda has been pointed out as a serious pollution hazard. Reuters
CAPE TOWN – Eskom has admitted that the level of air pollution in Mpumalanga needs urgent attention.

The cash-strapped power utility on Monday told Business Report that its air-quality modelling and monitoring showed elevated levels of particulate matter and a likely more significant impact on people’s health.

It claimed, however, that it was not only to blame, as domestic coal burning, traffic and dust from other sources, such as mining and agriculture, also contributed to the pollution.

Eskom said a new study carried out by Dr Andy Gray, an expert in air and health risk monitoring, which was cited in the court papers filed by GroundWork and Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action, had very similar findings to the studies it has commissioned since 2006.

The two non-governmental organisations have instituted a class action against the government for failing to take action against toxic levels of air pollution that are allegedly being emitted by 12 Eskom plants in Mpumalanga and Sasol’s synfuels operations in Secunda and its Natref oil refinery. They said the 14 plants were responsible for most of the pollution that had resulted in hundreds of deaths in 2016.

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy said yesterday that she had noted the court action and agreed that there were air quality challenges in the Mpumalanga Highveld Area.

Eskom yesterday said it was implementing a pollution-reduction plan that included the installation of pollution abatement technology at new power stations such as Kusile and Medupi and at existing plants.

Eskom said it planned to spend more than R46billion over the next five to 10 years. It said it was also considering shutting down and decommissioning several power stations before 2030 and implementing an offset project this year to reduce the use of coal for cooking and heating in households. It said up to 40000 households would be fitted with ceilings to improve insulation, and coal stoves would be replaced with a combination of electricity and LPG stoves and heaters.

An analysis by international environmental lobby group Greenpeace of satellite data in August last year showed Mpumalanga to be the world’s largest nitrogen dioxide air pollution hotspot across six continents.

These plants also emit toxic chemical compounds such as sulphur dioxide, heavy metals such as mercury, and fine particulate matter, which result in respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis and lung cancer, and contribute to strokes, heart attacks, birth defects and premature death.