Durban - The eThekwini Municipality has maintained that only three of its 15 air quality monitors were dysfunctional, a claim that is being disputed by environment groups.
The municipality, in its budget, has allocated R1 million to maintain the instruments.
Msawakhe Mayisela, city spokesperson, said it was committed to replacing the non-working monitors in Jacobs, Grosvenor and Warwick.
Mayisela said the delay in repairing the monitors was caused by procurement processes and that the suppliers of the monitors were taking longer than expected.
However, environmental activists claimed that all the city’s monitors were non-operational.
They said the municipality failed to supply key information to protect its residents and environment over the years.
The network is used to collect data detailing pollutants in the air. This information is often used to identify and fine offenders.
It is also shared with the SA Weather Services to detect possible floods and issue early warnings. Cheledi Tshehla, of SA Weather Service - air quality information, said the municipality had not provided information for a number of years.
Rico Euripidou, health campaigner for Groundwork, non-profit environmental justice service and developmental organisation, said the city had been unable to provide air quality data for many years because all the monitors were not working. He said, as environmental activists, they found it difficult to take polluters to task because the city was unable to share the data collected by the air monitors.
“All we want is for government to do their job. According to the Air Quality Act, eThekwini Municipality has an obligation to monitor air quality and regulate polluting industries so we protect health and mitigate climate change.
“The primary purpose of an air quality network is to collect information and act on transgressions, but how would that be possible if the city is not performing their task? The city had sophisticated air monitoring systems, but due to poor maintenance, it has been unable to help residents. We have been told people who were trained to work on them have left.”
Desmond D’Sa of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance welcomed the budget, saying it would help to hold the polluters accountable.
“People are getting away with murder, and we are not holding anyone accountable because we do not have information. In our recent meeting with the municipality, it was clear that none of the air monitoring networks was working. People are affected by asthma and cancer in the south of Durban, but we find it difficult to point who is responsible because the city is failing to do its job.
“We are determined to work with government and we are hoping that when they fixed the monitors they will share the information and we can save many lives,” he added.
Mayisela denied that the South African weather service did not have access to its data.