Healthy Air, Healthy Climate

The Mpumalanga Highveld in South Africa is fast becoming one of the most polluted places on earth, and was designated a priority air pollution Airshed (HPA) [1] by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in 2007. This was meant to have galvanised an air quality action plan to reduce emissions in this area, but since 2012 Eskom, the national energy utility that provides over 90% of South Africa’s electricity, has pushed for relaxed emissions standards for its fleet of coal fired power stations in the area.

Eskom has continuously applied to DEA for exemption from air pollution emission standards, which are meant to reduce pollution levels and improve citizen health, and over the last 10 years it has increased its emissions of NO2, SO2, and particulates by 44%, 22% and 74% respectively. The upwards trend is likely to continue. The Highveld is clearly not a priority for the DEA.

In addition to dirty energy, there is a concentration of coal mines, smelters, metallurgical plants and iron and steel works in the area, while poor households also continue to rely on burning coal and biomass indoors for heating and cooking, all of which add to a worsening outlook for public health in the Highveld.

Life After Coal

Though government and industry are monitoring air quality, people need better information about PM2.5 air pollution concentrations in their communities, where they live with the health consequences of air pollution every day. The more data we have, and the more personal and real-time that that data is, the better we can understand health risks in the Highveld, and the greater the pressure health professionals and the public can put on local authorities to implement solutions to unmask our city and protect lives.

We need an environment that is not harmful to our health and well-being and for a sustainable future, and that means a South Africa without coal.

Email the Minister of Health to compel the Minister of Health to ensure that people’s health is affected by air pollution from coal power plants and must polluting industry and be considered as a serious issue and a factor in decision making.



Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health

The national Department of Environmental Affairs and local government must implement what they promised:
to have a live fully functional air monitoring system that can inform the public what pollution they are breathing in from coal power plants; and
to ensure that the national air pollution emission standards are enforced for coal fired power plants and not further postponed.

The national Departments of Health must participate in various environmental governance and oversight systems, such as Environmental Impact Assessment, Air Quality Management Plans and environmental permit reviews linked to coal power plants to ensure that people’s health is considered and is a factor in decision making.

A reduction in fence-line pollution is the first step in our journey to reducing climate impacting greenhouse gas emissions.

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