So. Africa: Govt. taken to court to force it to clean the dirty air caused by coal mines in Mpumalanga’s Highveld region

Author: Ramin Pejan, Earthjustice (South Africa) , Published on: 8 July 2019

‘A Fight for the Right to Breathe Begins in South Africa’ 8 July 2019

South African environmental justice advocates are suing the government to force it to clean up the air in the country's Mpumalanga Highveld region. In the mid-1990s, South Africa’s post-apartheid government overhauled the nation’s constitution. Among the reforms, the country’s leaders adopted a bold, sweeping protection for the land and its people: the right to a healthy environment. Now, as scientists warn that all countries must take bold, sweeping action to avert the worst effects of a climate crisis, South African environmental justice advocates are testing that constitutional right. They are suing the government to force it to clean the dirty air that smothers South Africa’s Mpumalanga Highveld region.

Throughout much of the year, the 3.5 million residents of the Mpumalanga Highveld breath a toxic haze of pollutants released from the smokestacks of 12 coal-fired power plants operated by Eskom, South Africa’s beleaguered national public utility. The many coal mines in the region also pollute the air. Most of Eskom’s power plants are ancient, and spew out a toxic cocktail of pollutants such as mercury, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter (PM), a mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets that enter the lungs. These pollutants kill Highveld residents prematurely and cause them to suffer from respiratory and cardiac-related illnesses.

…“groundWork and the communities we represent have consistently been highlighting the issue of air pollution and its negative impacts on human health, and our lived experience is that government is not holding the big polluters to account,” says groundWork director Bobby Peek. “This is a public health crisis that can no longer be ignored.” This is the first case in South Africa asking courts to decide whether environmental deterioration violates the right to a healthy environment.  Communities breathing dirty air around the world and their governments will be watching with keen interest.  Let us hope that clean air prevails.

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Related companies: Eskom