Air pollution levels in the Durban South Basin are 26 times higher than recommended. Picture South Durban Community Environmental Alliance.

Durban - The city’s air pollution levels are currently higher than a standard required by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. 

Data supplied by eThekwini Municipality for July showed the city frequently exceeded the recommended concentration of one-millionth of a gram per cubic metre of air for particulate matter less than 10 and 2.5 microns, such as dust, pollen, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets.

For July, levels were exceeded 14 times in the City Hall area. Over the South Durban Basin, measuring stations in Ganges recorded levels 26 times higher; Settlers 16 times and Wentworth 18 times.

“Air pollution is typically higher during the winter months as a result of stable conditions and very little rainfall,” said Princess Nkabane, eThekwini media communication’s officer.

“It is also noted that particulate matter is a regional pollutant and is not only generated within the area but also from outside eThekwini.”

Despite this, the latest data from the South African Air Quality Information System ranked Wentworth and Settlers’ air quality good, City Hall moderate and Ganges offline.

Nationally, no plants are currently meeting the country’s minimum emission standards of sulphur dioxide (SO2) according to the Department of Environmental Affairs.

This week, Greenpeace protested outside Eskom offices for clean air, calling on the power utility to reduce it’s SO2 emissions.

Albi Modise, DEA spokesperson, said plants were currently operating above 3500mg/Nm3 and a recent amendment would require them to reduce their emissions to 1000mg/Nm3.

“Companies are required to monitor their emissions and report to their respective atmospheric licensing authorities. The licensing authorities assess this information, determine compliance or non compliance and keep records,” he said.

The department gazetted a bill this year to double the emissions limit from 500mg/Nm3, with effect from April. Penalties for exceeding minimum emission standards include a hefty fine and a 10-year prison sentence, according to the Air Quality Act.

Eskom and Sasol are the country’s biggest emitters of SO2, a harmful gas from coal and fuel combustion.

Eskom said it opposed the new standards on sulphur dioxide because it could not afford to install the systems required to limit its emissions, despite the government doubling it. Eskom said if it was forced to meet the new limits, that it would probably lead to electricity tariff hikes of 7-10%.

Eskom said it had proposed to the DEA a cost-effective approach that would cost less than the DEA’s plan.

The Independent on Saturday