Eskom says emissions from its fleet of coal-fired power stations cause 333 premature deaths a year. Picture: Greenpeace Africa

JOHANNESBURG – A new Greenpeace study has found that the little town of Kriel in Mpumalanga is the second-largest sulphur dioxide emissions (SO₂) hotspot in the world after the Norilsk smelter complex in Russia.

The study, which was commissioned by Greenpeace India and released yesterday, cited Mpumalanga as the largest SO₂ pollution hotspot in Africa with the cluster of mega power plants in Nkangala, including Duvha (3 600MW), Kendal (4 000MW) and Kriel (3 000MW) coal power stations producing mega anthropogenic SO₂ emissions between 2017 and 2018.

It said the emissions were a cause for concern.

“There are 12 coal fired power stations in the province, located just 100-200km from South Africa’s largest populated area, the Gauteng City region, posing a massive health concern. Power generation from these plants makes the Mpumalanga region the largest hotspot of SO₂ emissions from power generation in the world,” said the report.

Greenpeace India commissioned Nasa OMI satellite to conduct the report and the latter studied 500 major point sources of SO₂ emissions across the globe including natural sources such as volcanoes. 

Melita Steele, Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager at Greenpeace Africa, said yesterday that South Africa was amid “an airpocalypse”. 

“We simply cannot afford to waste any more time by delaying industry compliance with air quality legislation or the transition to renewable energy. Eskom and Sasol must not be allowed any more space to pollute the air that we breathe,” she said.

Greenpeace, the environmental lobby group, has recommended that Eskom phase out its coal-fired power stations by 2040 as the utility approaches a staggering R500 billion debt.

Eskom owns more than 90 percent of the total nominal generation capacity in the country. Pressure has been mounting for a crackdown on Eskom and petrochemicals giant Sasol over air pollution.

In June, environmental groups sued the government for failing to tackle the world’s worst air pollution emitted by power plants operated by Eskom and refineries owned by Sasol.

Greenpeace Africa charged that South Africa was clearly in the midst of an air pollution emergency, and it wanted no further postponements from complying with Minimum Emission Standards for Eskom’s coal-fired power stations in South Africa can be granted.

“If coal-fired power stations don’t comply, they need to be decommissioned,” it said.

Steele called on  South Africa’s National Air Quality Officer, Thuli Khumalo, to ensure that there was full compliance with South Africa’s Minimum Emission Standards by both Eskom and Sasol, the country’s two biggest emitters.

“South Africa’s National Air Quality Officer must show up for the job of protecting people’s health by enforcing compliance with our already woefully inadequate Minimum Emission Standards.” 

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