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So. Africa: Mpumalanga has highest levels of sulfur dioxide pollution due to the concentration of coal power plants- study reveals

‘Area in Mpumalanga is second highest SO2 emissions hotspot in the world - new study’ 19 August 2019

In the latest study to illustrate alarmingly high levels of air pollution caused by humans, the area around Kriel in Mpumalanga is now the world's second biggest sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions hotspot in the world. This is according to new data from NASA satellites, released on Monday morning. Greenpeace India commissioned a study using NASA satellites to track SO2 hotspots around the world, the environmental organisation said in a statement. The area's high levels of pollution are a direct result of a concentration of coal power plants there, the study found. Eskom has a fleet of 12 coal power stations, all located in the Highveld Priority Area in Mpumalanga and Gauteng.

The new data shows that the Highveld SO2 emissions are beaten only by the enormous nickel smelters at Norilsk in Russia – one of the 10 most polluted places on Earth according to environmental non-profit organisation, the Blacksmith Institute. In third place, according to the new NASA data, is an enormous petrochemicals plant at Zargoz in Iran. According to Greenpeace, power plants and industries which burn oil and gas are responsible for two thirds of SO2 emissions which can be linked to human activity, in the world. Oil refineries and metal smelters – like the one in Russia - are also major sources of SO2.

…The South African government is already being sued over its alleged failure to act on the toxic air in the Highveld. The lawsuit has been brought by environmental activist group groundWork and Mpumalanga community organisation Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER). They want the court to declare the air pollution in the area a violation of people's right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being, as enshrined in Section 24 of the Constitution. As part of that suit, the applicants submitted a new study that showed that Eskom's coal fleet as well as Sasol's coal-to-liquids plant in Secunda, and the NatRef refinery in Sasolburg, contributed to the vast majority of air pollution in the Highveld in 2016. These 14 facilities were estimated to have caused between 305 and 650 early deaths in the area in 2016, according to the study. It was conducted by an expert in air pollution, Dr Andy Gray.