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Minister Barbara Creecy to appeal parts of Mpumalanga ’deadly air' ruling

Air pollution in Mpumalanga. Picture: Sapa

Air pollution in Mpumalanga. Picture: Sapa

Published Apr 14, 2022

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Pretoria - Residents in Mpumalanga may have to live with the polluted air in their region a while longer.

This is after it emerged that Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy will seek leave to appeal certain portions of the judgment in favour of various NGOs in the Mpumalanga “deadly air” case.

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Environmental justice group GroundWork Trust and the Vukani Environmental Justice Alliance and Mpumalanga community organisation Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action said they were disappointed by the minister’s decision to apply for leave to appeal some parts of the judgment.

They said the judgment, handed down last month in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, was a resounding ­victory for environmental justice in South Africa.

Judge Colleen Collis recognised the poor air quality in the Mpumalanga Highveld region as a breach of residents’ constitutional right to an environment that was not harmful to their health and well-being.

The judgment also directed the government to prepare and implement regulations to reduce air pollution within 12 months of the order.

Creecy is not appealing the first part of the order that relates to the constitutional rights of the residents to clean air, but rather those that relate to the interpretation of sections of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act.

The declaration of residents’ guaranteed right to a healthy environment still stands, and GroundWork and Vukani will proceed to take action on this basis through their various community-based activities.

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“The department’s decision to appeal parts of this judgment risks further delaying any meaningful action being taken to lift the burden of air pollution which residents of the Mpumalanga Highveld experience every day.

“These are measures that are way overdue, considering that government first recognised this area as an air ­pollution hot spot 18 years ago,” said GroundWork director Bobby Peek.

A significant portion of Mpumalanga’s Highveld region was declared a High Priority Area in 2004.

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Since then repeated studies – and the judgment – found that air pollution in the area is responsible for premature deaths, decreased lung function and the development of diseases such as asthma and cancer. It was found that these ongoing harms particularly affect the lives of the elderly and children.

Regarding next steps, the Centre for Environmental Rights’ Deputy Director Wandisa Phama said: “We will wait for a hearing date for this application for leave to appeal. At this time, all parties will be able to make arguments before Justice Collis and she will then decide whether another court could reasonably come to a different conclusion, or if there are other compelling reasons in the interests of justice for the disputed parts of the decision to be reconsidered.”

Judge Collis last month held that “the undisputed evidence is that the present ambient air pollution levels by far exceed the National Standards, and that the levels recorded pose a threat to a safe environment and human life and their well-being”.

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She declared that Creecy had unreasonably delayed preparing and initiating regulations to give effect to the Highveld Priority Area plan in Mpumalanga, and Creecy was directed to, within 12 months of the order, prepare, initiate and prescribe regulations in terms of the Air Quality Act to implement and enforce the Highveld Plan.

It was argued during the case that everyday people living and working on the Mpumalanga Highveld are breathing toxic, polluted air that is harmful to their health and well-being, and that this is a violation of their constitutional rights, to which the judge agreed.

Pretoria News

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