DEATH LURKS IN ESKOM’S MURKY AIR

A new re­port re­veals how our power sta­tions are caus­ing hun­dreds of deaths and days off sick ev­ery year

CityPress - - Business - VUKILE DLWATI busi­ness@city­press.co.za

More than 200 en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists staged a protest out­side a gov­ern­ment air qual­ity con­fer­ence this week, against pol­lu­tion in South Africa. Eskom was named as one of the big­gest cul­prits. They say dirty air is killing peo­ple, mak­ing them ill and caus­ing bil­lions of rands in en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic dam­age.

The demon­stra­tion took place out­side the depart­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal affairs’ an­nual air qual­ity gov­er­nance lek­gotla in Jo­han­nes­burg. It co­in­cided with the re­lease of a damn­ing re­port en­ti­tled Bro­ken Prom­ises: The Fail­ure of Highveld Pri­or­ity Ar­eas (HPA), which re­veals the per­ilous and deadly state of air in the re­gion.

The re­port’s au­thors found that air pol­lu­tion from Eskom’s coal-fired power sta­tions causes up to 2 239 deaths a year, bro­ken down as fol­lows: 1 110 deaths from coro­nary heart disease, 719 from strokes re­lated to air pol­lu­tion, 180 due to lower re­s­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions, 157 from lung can­cer and 73 due to chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary disease.

How­ever, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the Eskom me­dia desk said that: “The num­ber of deaths cal­cu­lated is ex­ag­ger­ated, given the ac­tual num­ber of deaths in South Africa per year, the causes of death as pub­lished by the South African Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil, and the con­tri­bu­tion made by Eskom power sta­tions rel­a­tive to other sources to am­bi­ent air pol­lu­tion lev­els.”

Eskom, the coun­try’s big­gest pol­luter fol­lowed by petro­chem­i­cals gi­ant Sa­sol, causes a lot of ill­ness.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, al­most 1 mil­lion days are lost each year as a re­sult of peo­ple fall­ing ill be­cause of poor air qual­ity.

Nearly 4 mil­lion work­ing days are lost a year due to “re­stricted ac­tiv­ity”.

The re­port es­ti­mates that, each year, Eskom’s pol­lu­tion causes close to 3 000 adult cases of chronic bron­chi­tis, nearly 10 000 cases of bron­chi­tis in chil­dren, al­most 95 000 work­ing days lost to asthma and 2 400 hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions.

The to­tal cost of the pol­lu­tion associated with Eskom’s is es­ti­mated at $2.3 bil­lion (R32 bil­lion).

In re­sponse, Eskom said the cal­cu­lated costs of power util­ity’s emis­sions are higher than the ac­tual costs, since the health im­pact has been over­es­ti­mated.

Eskom’s Medupi power sta­tion in Lim­popo, which is un­der con­struc­tion, is ex­pected to be the power util­ity’s deadliest plant yet. The au­thors pre­dict 364 deaths a year as a re­sult of the unit’s pol­lu­tion.

“The num­ber of deaths al­lo­cated per power sta­tion has been cal­cu­lated in­cor­rectly, since pop­u­la­tion distri­bu­tion has been over-sim­pli­fied,” Eskom said.

En­vi­ron­men­tal affairs spokesper­son Albi Modise said the depart­ment had noted the re­port.

“The non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions con­cerned have also given us their mem­o­ran­dum con­tain­ing el­e­ments of the re­port. We will study the re­port and re­spond in de­tail later.”

“Eskom does not dis­pute that coal-fired power sta­tions im­pact on hu­man health...Power sta­tions are only one of many sources of air pol­lu­tion which harm health in South Africa which con­trib­ute to pre­ma­ture deaths,” Eskom added.

In 2007, gov­ern­ment promised to clean up air pol­lu­tion on the Highveld by declar­ing it a pri­or­ity area un­der the Air Qual­ity Act, the re­port says.

“A decade later, the en­vi­ron­men­tal in­jus­tice re­mains: toxic air pol­lu­tion con­tin­ues to de­stroy the health and well­be­ing of the peo­ple of the Highveld.”

The re­port was com­mis­sioned by the Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­men­tal Rights, ground­Work and the Highveld En­vi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Net­work.

The cen­tre said all three or­gan­i­sa­tions had been supportive, ac­tive and vo­cal par­tic­i­pants in var­i­ous Highveld pri­or­ity area pro­cesses for many years, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on the Nkan­gala dis­trict mu­nic­i­pal­ity in Mpumalanga, which had sig­nif­i­cant in­dus­trial, elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion, min­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing ac­tiv­ity.

Thomas Mn­guni, a ground­Work com­mu­nity ac­tivist, this week handed a mem­o­ran­dum of de­mands to the depart­ment, in a bid to en­sure clean air in the Highveld pri­or­ity ar­eas. The groups ex­pected an­swers within seven days of hand­ing over the mem­o­ran­dum.

One irate en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist, No­ma­l­izo Xhoma, pro­gramme of­fi­cer at Earth­life Africa, said: “Gov­ern­ment must in­tro­duce re­new­able en­ergy from the sun. The gov­ern­ment is not do­ing enough. That is why we are out here protest­ing to put pres­sure on the de­ci­sion mak­ers in this air qual­ity lek­gotla.

“In Mpumalanga, air pol­lu­tion is ex­treme and we know that it is caused by Sa­sol and Eskom’s emis­sion of deadly green­house gases,” Xhoma said.

Deputy Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­men­tal Affairs, Bar­bara Thom­son’s speech at the lek­gotla was de­liv­ered by Tlou Ra­maru, act­ing deputy di­rec­tor gen­eral: cli­mate change and air qual­ity. She cited plans that gov­ern­ment had drawn up to im­prove the coun­try’s air qual­ity.

“Sev­eral ‘on-the-ground’ air qual­ity in­ter­ven­tions are tak­ing place across the coun­try. Eight of the nine prov­inces have air qual­ity man­age­ment plans in place to that pro­vide a roadmap with pro­vin­cial strate­gies to­wards im­prov­ing am­bi­ent air qual­ity.”

’’ In Mpumalanga, air pol­lu­tion is ex­treme and we know that it is caused by Sa­sol and Eskom’s emis­sion of deadly green­house gases

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