Thursday 5 June 2014

Stoping Polluters from Complying - Submission presented to the Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs

Ms Tyhileka Madubela
Coordinator: Portfolio Committee on Water & Environmental Affairs
Committee Section
Parliament of RSA
PO Box 15
Cape Town

By email:

 11 April 2013

 Dear Advocate de Lange


1.    I hereby make submissions regarding the proposed draft amendments to the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act, 2004 (Air Quality Act) section 21 list of activities which result in atmospheric emissions which have or may have a significant detrimental effect on the environment, including health, social conditions, economic conditions, ecological conditions or cultural heritage (listed activities). I make these submissions in my capacity as a resident of Zamdela in Sasolburg. 

2.    Zamdela forms part of the highly industrialised Vaal Triangle Airshed Priority Area (VTAPA). There are many contributors to the extremely poor air quality in the area. Sasolburg is part of an industrial complex in Free State and is a major centre for the chemical industry. Zamdela is one of the areas that is faced with high sulphur dioxide emissions and fine particulate matter concentrations experienced in many urban areas due to household activities, as well as industrial and power generation sectors.

3.    But there is one main industry that contributes largely to atmospheric emissions -Sasol Chemical Industry. For over 50 years, communities in Zamdela,Sasolburg, has been bearing the brunt of pollution - mainly from Sasol Chemical Industry and other surrounding industries.  

4.    Industry brought jobs and growth to Sasolburg. People were unaware of the dangerous impacts of exposure to hazardous chemicals, flares burning night and day, air pollution and strong odours.  People were made to choose between short term survival in the form of employment by industry, and long term environmental and health damage. Government sees industrial pollution as a necessary evil for the sake of economic development. 

5.    For many years, air quality management remained on the back-burner of environmental policies, mainly because air pollution is not always visible and not restricted by geographical boundaries. 

6.    Communities and individuals saw the need to act against Sasol. With the assistance of groundWork, a committee called the Sasolburg Air Quality Monitoring Committee was established. The Committee’s focus was on monitoring air quality, engagement with both Government and industries, mobilisation and organising of communities, and raising awareness about the environmental injustices and environmental health concerns due to this industrial pollution. 

7.    Zamdela communities made submissions before Parliament during the Air Quality Act hearings. These inputs paid off because the Vaal Triangle Airshed was the first area to be declared a priority area in South Africa. This meant that there was recognition that the air we breathe is not conducive to human health and wellbeing. 

8.    The Air Quality Act sets out to protect and enhance air quality in South Africa and to secure ecologically sustainable development through reasonable air pollution prevention measures. This can be achieved through the development of air quality management plans and by involving all spheres of government and the public sector.

9.    The Air Quality Act’s objectives do not need any translation – it aims to protect the environment by providing reasonable measures for the protection and enhancement of the quality of air in the Republic. The Air Quality Act is supposed to give effect to section 24(b) of the Constitution in order to enhance the quality of ambient air for the sake of securing an environment and well-being of people. The viability of the new air quality approach will however depend on effective and timely capacity building at all tiers of government and within the private sector.

10. To achieve the objective of the Air Quality Act and to control the atmospheric emissions of these industries, Government should set section 21 emissions standards based on the scientifically researched levels of impact of these pollutants. Listed activities can be detrimental to health and require an atmospheric emission licence (AEL). The AEL must require that an industry report all its air pollution sources. Government must build the capacity of the local air quality officers so that municipalities only grant AELs if the applicant industry can prove that they can comply with the requirements as set out in the Air Quality Act. Government should not be lenient when they grant these AELs, and industries should be compelled to compile comprehensive emission inventories for the entire site where a listed activity will be conducted.

11. Our main concern with air pollution is the amount of pollution that eventually reaches ground level, where it is then inhaled by humans. There are number of people already suffering from respiratory illnesses such as asthma, cancer and other health problems associated with the inhalation of polluted air. Many people in Zamdela are suffering from irritation of their eyes, noses and throats. These pollutants comprise various compounds such as sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, benzene, ozone and dust.

12. Although Sasol has been publicising that they have spent much money reducing incidents and emissions, the community in Zamdela - located in the zone that is westerly-downwind of the heavy industry, where residents live with the constant ll of a variety of chemical pollutants released both by normal production and by periodic incidents - can tell a different story. 

13. Industries such as Sasol have blamed high atmospheric emissions on communities for burning coal in winter for cooking, but also for space heating and to provide light. In the Vaal Triangle, it was found that coal burning contributes on averages 37% to the atmospheric particulate load, rising to 65% in winter (Engelbrecht). The coarser particulate matter (PM10) emissions have been exceeded in Sasolburg; this has been proven by Government’s monitoring station that has been placed in Zamdela. It has been acknowledged by the Department of Environmental Affairs that these particles are not only as a result of coal burning in the area, but industries’ activities exacerbate the increase of PM10. If industries are let off the hook, this will also spoil the intention of the declaration of the VTAPA - to effectively and efficiently bring the air quality into sustainable compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards. 

14. The first step in air quality management is to determine the quality of air i.e. its fitness for human consumption. In 2009, the Department of Environmental Affairs  

15. published the State of Air Report 2005 for South Africa with the purpose of providing insight into the sources of emission and the associated human health, welfare, and broader environmental effects. The report sets out to identify significant sources, pollutants and areas of impact in combination with existing air quality management practices. Monitoring of air pollution is still restricted to a few criteria pollutants with little information on ozone and benzene. The available data did, however, flag sulphur dioxide and fine particulates as the main pollutants of concern in Zamdela. These are primarily a result of household fuel-burning, industrial operations, vehicles and power generation.
Managing this industrial pollution and understanding the significance of its contribution to health and environment will help to achieve the necessary emissions reductions.  

16. But the challenges are in the  absence of a system for regularly reviewing and, where necessary, revising registration certificate and AEL conditions in line with best practice, and the absence of coherent and routine monitoring - by both government and businesses - to assess compliance with registration certificate and AEL conditions

17. Due to the need to manage air quality to within acceptable limits, the relevant air quality officer may require the licence-holder to appoint an emission control officer to: introduce cleaner production technologies; ensure compliance with licence conditions and report non-compliance promptly.  These officers must be appointed - the bottom line is that we need someone to ‘do their homework’ with regard to understanding their emissions and associated impacts, and to consider cleaner production technologies and practices for the industry to continue operating in the long term.

18. In conclusion, to date, communities have not yet realised the good intention of declaring the VTAPA as a pollution hotspot. We have not yet enjoyed the realisation of the objectives of the Air Quality Act.

19. The public has been promised protection from impacts on our health and wellbeing due to air pollution, including odour, dust and noise.  We hope that the Government will honour that promise by not being lenient to profit-making industries, and will realise that industries have no any other motives than making profit by continuing to pollute and not wanting to change their technologies. 

20. If section 21 standards are weakened, communities in Zamdela and other areas will have to breathe air that is even more dangerous to their health than the current situation.

21. In these circumstances, I strongly object to the draft amendments to the listed activities.

Yours sincerely

Caroline Ntaopane

Zamdela resident

Wednesday 3 April 2013

BRICS from Below – For Social, Environmental and Economic Development

BRICS from Below – For Social, Environmental and Economic Development
South Africa is one of the emerging countries of the future. It received a privilege to be the first African country to host the Fifth Brics Summit on the 26-27 March 2013. Alternative to the Hegemonic Summit, South African Civil Society led by groundwork, Centre for Civil Society and South Durban Community Environmental Alliance to scrutinise claims and the process. Many people have heard about BRICS about we cannot begin to relate this process with our daily struggles. People asked themselves the following questions:

-          Does South Africa match up with Brazil, Russia, India and China Economic? We can make the generalisations from the study that was conduct by Trade Law Centre and the National Agricultural Marketing Council that South Africa does not measure up in terms of economic size, also it does not measure up in terms of trade levels and its performance has been below that of the other members. South Africa has a significant smaller economy than BRICs, with a GDP around one quarter of the India and Russian economies.

-          What does BRICS mean for the people

-          What is in the agenda
We know that many countries sees the alliance as an opportunity to enhance  cooperation with other developing or developed countries, playing a significant role in the economic and social development of the region. It is important for countries to assist each but we want to move away from the hegemony leadership. South African protagonist invasion brings only destruction because it does not service the need s of the people and the African continent has been overwhelmed by Bric corporations using South Africa as a gate way.
In this democratically South Africa there are people who don’t access to housing and have denied the right to access land, there is also a price on the air we breathe. We have people don’t have access to proper water and sanitation. Behind closed doors leader are not discussion how to distribute wealth equally but how to make other countries richer and make more profit.  Somebody must make them understand that all is not well. We have voted so that they must start negotiating on our fate. We refuse this democracy of being represented, we want to be there.  We must find a way to organise and mobilise. We must come out without fear and we must have a strategy. We must arise and come with the alternatives. Do we choose life of Profit? Profit can only determine how life is destroyed and live can determine how profit is made.  We want economy that is inclusive and we want justice for all.  We must say no to the greed of BRICS and Betrayal. The power belongs to us. Brics paid little attention to environment, job creation, poverty reduction, poor infrastructure, climate change, how to stop mining from lotting mineral resources, energy and the local resource of water that has been destroyed both in terms of quality and quantity because of mining activities.

Caroline Ntaopane leading March during BRICS

We have been talking up to a point where some people frustrations lead into taking matters into the own hand. People are still fighting to be recognition and fighting to belong and be part of decision making. When we say no to unsuitable development, when we say no to land degradation, when we say no to toxic chemical that affects our water and our air, our government is saying we don’t understand the benefit and we are ignorant. People can no longer make a distinction between democracy and democrazy.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Breathing Raw Sewage

Breathing Raw Sewage
Sebokeng Hostels is situated in the South of Johannesburg in the Vaal Triangle.  This area is well known for rent by court in 1983 that lead into to Vaal uprising in 1984. Sebokeng Hostel used to host the immigrant worker who is working in the factories in the Vaal Triangle.  The hostel is under the control of the Emfulweni Local Municipality.

Today the area has been turned into the family Unit, many immigrant workers fetched their families to come and stay with them.  Because overcrowded, there are lots of people staying there now. There are eight people staying in one unit sometimes even more. Some people build shacks outside the unit and have increase capacity of water usage and sanitation.  Beside the problem of the area being over crowded the infrastructure in that area is very old and not maintained.
There is open storm water drainage, when the sewage pipes bust it goes straight into this drainage water storm drainage and it goes into Rietspruit River and Vaal River. The people staying next open water drainage has been complaining about being exposing to the unpleasant smells. People have been complaining about stomach problem from drinking water, because the water pipe and sewer system are combined.  There are cases whereby people when they open their pumps in the houses what comes out is sewage.

What is the Health Problem Associated with the Raw Sewage?
The health hazards of inhaling the smell of raw sewage are not likely an immediate threat but contact with contaminants and bacteria is a cause of illness. Particles of raw sewage are able to become airborne, however, and inhalation of these particles causes adverse health effects such as gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Raw sewage poses the biggest threat to public health when it enters the water supply, where it is diluted and spread much wider than where it originated. While boiling water before consuming it minimizes the risk of waterborne illness, there is a high risk of potentially deadly diseases such as cholera and dysentery from drinking water contaminated with raw sewage.
This water goes straight into Vaal River
Water and Sewage
Sewage can also kill fish, if it enters a waterway, and it can pose health risks to other animals. Sewage spills may also lead to algae blooms, as organisms feed on the sewage and reproduce in large numbers. Once sewage enters a waterway or the groundwater, getting rid of it can be a very costly endeavour.
Who is responsible?
Sewer and drinking water in Emfulweni it is the responsibility if Metsi –a-Lekoa, if there is a spillage metsi-a – lekoa has to be notified. Samson Mokoena and VEJA monitor Dudu Diphoka visited the area after and they have witness the spillages, communities says that the spillages has been taking place for three days and now they tired of calling the municipality, the response they are getting is that there is no funds and the people are also contribute to the problem.
What are the recommendations?
In the last meeting of the Rietspruit water catchment Forum, Department of the Water Affairs promised to go and investigate the problem, the municipality must also invest on installing new infrastructure. But it going to take long time before the situation can be resolve. People cannot continue living the way they living. That area is chaotic, it need to be rehabilitated as soon as possible. Samson Mokoena who went there came back very worry about the kids growing up in that area. He also said there is no need for local municipality to refuse to clean up the area; clearly the lives of the people are at risk. Monitors an youth in that area will take an action against this issue in the month of July. It will go to the community, write memo's to the responsible authorities.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

No transparency ! No transpancy

Accessing Information through Promotion of Access on Information Act

Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance received training from South African History Archives about PAIA and how to use this legislation to access environmental and other information. Since December 2011, VEJA has been working with the Centre for Environmental Right(CER)  to request access to information from Sasol Chemical Industry, Natref, Ominia, Anglo Coal: Thermai Coal, ArcelorMittal, as well as various government department.

We, the affected community, living in highly industrial area, and the water we are drink and air we breath are highly toxic. We have every right to have access to information so that we able to protect our constitutional right to a healthy environment and participate meaningfuly as interested  and affected parties.

What is Promotion of Access on Information Act and its Purpose

The purpose of the Act is to give effect to the constitutional right of access to any information held by the State and any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights. The Bill of Right is the cornerstone of South Africa democracy and section 32 contains the right.  The information tha  VEJA requests is to exercise or protect environmental rights, but also impacts on human dignity and social rights.

The Promotion of Access to Information Act was promulgated in 2000, amongst other things was to
- foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public and private bodies by giving effect to the right of access to information;
- actively promote a society in which the people of South Africa have effective access to information to enable them to more fully exercise and protect all of their rights.

PAIA provides that access to information must be granted, unless there is a valid ground in PAIA to refuse such access,. If a requestis refused, adequate reasons must be provided for the refusal, including the provions of PAIA relied upon. If a requester wants to challenge the decision of a private body to refuse access to documents, court proceedings must be lodged within 180 days of the refusal. In the case of a decision of a public body ( such as a government department), PAIA makes procedure for an internalappeal to be lodged before court proceedings are launched.

So far, On behalf of VEJA, the CER submitted several applications to the companies set out below:

1. Environmental Master plan and related documents, and numerous documents related to its Vaal Dump site: to ArcelorMittal;
2. Water use license ( and any pending applications),as well as water monitoing results: to Sasol; Natref; and Omnia; and 
3. Mining right and permit/license( and any pending appliactions); the current approvedEnvironmental Management Programme( EMPR); all compliance reports submitted to the Departmentof Mineral Resources ( DMR) in terms of the EMPR from date of issue to date; the quatum and method of approved financial provision for rehabilitation; the water use licence( and any pending applications ) and water monitoring results submitted to the Department of Water Affairs( DWA) in terms of the water use license from date of issue to date: Anglo New Vaal Colliery.
These and other revalent documets were also also requested from the relevanjt government departments.
1. Environmental Master Plan and illegal Vaal Dump site 
Access to all of this information was denied by ArcelorMittal. ArcelorMittal. In about 1996 , following extensive pollution by the steel-making industry, Iscor ( as it then was) presented the Department of Water Affairs & Forestry( DWAF- as it then was) with a 10 year" Strategic Water Management Pla". This plan was appareantly subject to a gap analysis and the outcome of the analysis provided the basis on which the Environmental Master Plan was formulated by Mittal to address its environmental issues and the serious pollution in the area. Studies for the Master Plan were initiated in July 2000. Over the years, the Master Plan has been has been a crucial document during Iscor's/ArcelorMittal'S negotiations with DWAF/DWA nad in license appliacations.

The DWA refused VEJA access to the Master Plan on the bases that: it was neither the originator , nor the custodian of the information requested. The Gauteng Department of Agriculture  and Rural Development( GDARD) has refusedto give VEJA any documents relating to the Vaal Dump site because they say that the discloure of the records could prejudice the future supply of similar information, or infomation fromthe same source; and it is in the public interest that such information continue to be supplied.

For various reasons, VEJA and CER take the view that thse departments cannot rely on these grounds for refusal. Internal appeals have been submitted in relation to both the DWA and GDARD refusals. Although the time period in PAIA for providing responses to the internal appeals has expired, no response has yet been received, GDARD has indicated that the MEC has yet considered the internal appeal, and that VEJA and CER will be advised as soon as the MEC has done so.

Sasol Infrachen, Natref, Omnia and Anglo Coal New Vaal Colliery

VEJA and CER also used the PAIA to request documents from these companies that forms Leei-Taaibochspruit  Catchment Management Forum (LTF) in the northern Free State Province. As set out above, the documents that were requested were water use licences( and pending applications), as well as water monitorng results. 

In realtion to Anglo, various other documents were requested, as there is currently an envieonmental authorisation process underway in relation to the Lethabo power station. In this regard, a PAIA application was also made to the DMR. It has also only provided certain of the information requested, but failed to provide reansons for the refusal to provide other documents. The CER in regular contact with the DMR in this regard, and VEJA intends to launch an internal appeal

The requestas relating to water use licences and water monitoring results were prompted by the experience of VEJA's water team in participatingin the LTF- it found out that all these big companies in the catchment were not reporting their water effluent results to the stakeholders at the forum level. Although the results were sent to DWA, it was not making them available to the stakeholders.

CER and VEJA mae the request in April 2012, and ( apart from Anglo which made its water use lincence and mining right available), these companies responded with letters requesting meetings with VEJA and CER before they would make documents available. In early May 2012, VEJA and CER met with Anglo; on the 10th May 2012, we met with Saspl, and with Natref on the 30th May 2012. Following the meeting with Anglo, it refused to make any other documents available, claiming that they needed tp protect commercial information of a third party and a private body. Sasol and Natref provided 4 months of water monitoring results, copies of water permits and exemptions in terms of the old Water Act, 1956, as well as some detail relating to its pending applications for a water use licence. Omnia refused access to information on the same basis as Anglo. CER has sent follow-up letters with various queries to all of these companies.

In response to the PAIA application to it, the DWA only provided a copy of the Omnia water use licence and indicated that the other licences were still pending. VEJA's water team asked the DWA why the other water use licences were still pending, and has not been provided with a satisficatory response.

CER has written to the DWA with varoius queries, including a request for copies of the applications for water use licenses. Should this information not be provided, VEJA intends to launch an internal appeal.

In the letters to Sasol, Natref and the DWA, enquires were made as to which reasonable steps hasd been taken to ensure that the companies do not ensure that the companies do not commiut ant act or omission: which polluters or is likely to pollute a water resource; and which detrimentally affects or is likely to affect a water resource; and that they had taken all reasonable measures to prevent pollution of a continuing or recurring.

This exercise has proven to VEJA that there is little accountability and transparancy to the public. This information we have sought should be made public - it will enable us to evaluate and monitor effectively. it is concerning that , in many cases, both industry and governement appear to be hindering communities' access to this information.

The documents that were requested are relating to Water Use Licence and any Permit and Water results for the last 4 month from all these companies.

These came after VEJA water team participating in Leei-Taai Boshspriet Water Forum found out that all these big companies in the catchment they were not reporting their water effluent results to the stakeholders at the forum level and the results were sent to Department of water affairs and the department where not making them available to the stakeholders.

CER and VEJA started these processes in April and immediately these companies responded with letters demanding to meet with VEJA and CER. In April VEJA and CER met with Anglo Coal, on the 10th we met with Sasol and Natref on the 30thMay 2012. Anglo gave mining right and water use license, Sasol gave us water permits and exemption and Natref gave permits, exemption and the result of their effeluent. These documents were issued under the National Water act 54 of 1956. Omnia Respond is that they water use licence as well as the data requested contain confidential business.
These accompanies where supposed to be operating under the national water act of 1998 and all of them where supposed to have a water used licence so that the department of water affairs caN monitor compliance in the Leei-Taai Catchment in terms of National Water Act of 1998.

The water Team has asked the DWA why they have not processes the water use licence of all these companies and no response has been given
This exercise has proven to us that there is no accountability and transparency. This information that we asking we for its public information. It will help us to be able to evaluate and monitor effectively. But industries and government want to make sure communities do not get this information.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Eskom needs more coal to Expand Lethabo Powe Station

Proposed Life Extension of new Vaal Environmental Impact Assessment

Vaal Triangle considered as one of the economic hub of Gauteng and Free State, also continues to be the “environmental hotspot “in South Africa. This “environmental hotspot” comes as result of several heavy industries integrated with highly populated residential areas, which most people using coal for space heating and cooking during winter. Whilst these industries are considered as having a positive economic impact, they contribute to several negative impacts in the area including air and water pollution.

The purpose of Anglo American Life Extension Project
Over the years we have seen significant increase in development and expansion projects that invariably have some impact on surrounding communities and the environment in Vaal Triangle.  Starting from April 2010, Anglo American Thermal a division of Anglo Operations Coal appointed Golder Associates to conduct a public participation on the Life Extension of new Vaal Environmental Impact Assessment.

Accoriding to the bid document, Eskom needs a secure coal supply to keep the Lethabo Power Station running until 2050. Anglo American Thermal Coal can fulfil this requirement if the life of the existing New Vaal Colliery (NVC) is extended by 20 years. AOL proposes to extend its existing opencast mining operations by mining new coal reserves which are located to the south of NVC, situated approximately 5 kilometres east of Sasolburg and approximately 10 kilometres south of Vereeniging in the northern Free State Province. AOL proposes to blend coal from NVC with coal from the proposed new operations to the south of the existing mine. These operations will include both opencast and underground mining within the New Cornelia Block 1 and New Cornelia Vaalbank reserves. The life extension Project is known as the NVC Lifex Project.  As above mentioned that starting from April 2010, the AOL conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment as required by the National Environmental Management Act (Act No.107 of 1998)
Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance found out about the project after the scoping phase has been done, we never knew about this project from the beginning. We got worried about the impact of this type of a project.  As we all know maybe from reading our past posts, Vaal has been declared a pollution hotspot area( Priority) meaning the area need special attention to be able to mitigate the high levels of pollution. If our government allows this type of development, then it is failing the intention of the declaretions. We were also concern about public participation process, there was no maximum participation.  But we managed to submit our comments through Centre for Environmental Rights. Amongst other things in our submission we raised our concern about the following:
-          Public Participation Process
-          Impossible to determine the real environmental impacts particularly on the quality of water , air and
-          High value of agricultural land
-          Soil on local food production and food security in the future
-          Health issues
-          Bio –diversity
-          Particulate Matter( dust)
-          Monitoring

After submitting our commend Anglo asked to meet with Centre for Environmental Rights and VEJA. On the 2nd May 2012 the meeting took place at Anglo American. The purpose of the meeting was to understand Background, how is this project going to impact on air quality, water and LAND. We then embarked on a tour to Eco Park, water treatment plant and drive pass open cast mine and a new proposed site.  We think we achieved most of the thing we wanted. We agreed there will be further engagements once the specialised report is being finalised and VEJA will be fully involved in this process. We asked Anglo to send us the water use license and mineral rights and we got them. The additional information we asked for is the air quality data and water samples result.
What is Environmental Impact Assessment?
We have realised many people in the community still don’t know what is Environmental Impact Assessment and why it is important for them to participate. Many people even when they do participate in the Environmental Impact Assessment they only concern about employment more than anything else. Many people are unable to engage with the companies around questions of how the project is going to affect their health and Environment. I cannot really blame the uniformed communities, often environmental issues are seen as technical and only doctors and professors as the only people who understand them better. People know that the air we breathe is full of toxic and bad smells and their child are suffering from asthma or respiratory illness you don’t need to be a doctor.

Environmental Impact Assessment is process where all affected communities need to be consulted and the concerns , issues, queries and suggestions that community may have regarding the proposed development need to considered and addressed. In South Africa we have several Environmental Laws. To put these laws into effects, the main legislation in South Africa is the Constitution (1996). Included in the constitution is the Bill of Rights. Section 24, chapter 2 entrenched that everyone has a right to environment that is not harmful to their  health or well-being and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that:
-          Prevent pollution and ecological degradation
-          Promote conservation; and
-          Secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural while promoting justifiable economic and social development
Another Important Law we have in South Africa is National Environmental Management Act (107), 1996(NEMA). One of the main purpose of NEMA is  to provide for co-operative environmental governance by establishing principles for decision making on matters affecting the environment and there are other purposes  This act gone through many amendments. In April 2006 the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism passed environmental impact assessment regulations in terms of chapter 5 of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).
The objective of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations is to establish the procedures that must be followed in the consideration, investigation, assessment and reporting for any proposed development.  The purpose of this procedures is to provide the competent authority with adequate information to make decisions which ensures that activities which may impact negatively on the environment to an unacceptable degree are not authorised, and that activities which are authorised are undertaken in such a manner that the environmental impact are managed to acceptable levels.

The procedures are also intended to ensure that:
-        The minimum information is necessary for decision- making is provided;
-          Adequate information is provided to interested and affected parties( I&P’S) enable them to participate effectively
-          Issues, impact and alternatives are considered and assessed in a structured and objective manner ; and
-          The requirement for the management over the life cycle of activities.
Eskom Power Plant with the capacity of 3600 MW ( Lethabo)
To cut a long story short, the immediate aim of EIA is to provide information for decision making process by identifying potentially significant environmental effects and risks of development proposal. Long term aim of EIA is to promote environmentally sound and sustainable solutions.

We heard that the Minister from Mineral and Energy Susan Shabangu talking about cleaner coal. Alternative energy model is necessary, the question is when South Africa is going to start investing on new cleaner technology. For the next 20 years Eskom will be using Anglo's dirty coal. Right now South African government is busy giving permissions to coal mines to expand, Eskom is building two massive coal fired stations. I find this statement from the Minister contradicting with what is happening right now and in the future. On the other hand we also talking about global warming. South Africa is one of the countries that pledged to limit emissions of greenhouse in Durban. How are they going to keep their promoses when Eskom, ArcelorMittal, BHP Billiton and Sasol deciding on future of economic path.

Anglo is saying if they do not proceed with operation, mining of these coal reserves will not necessary be avoided, as another application in terms of MPRDA can be made by another company. Unless the government declares the area"off limits" .

Saturday 21 April 2012

Get nature in order


South Africa has trusted itself very much into the environmental spotlight, being listed as among the top 20 carbon dioxide producing nations in the world (on the negative side) and by seemingly positive developments such as:
The United Nations Climate Change Conference that was hosted in Durban from 28 November to 9 December 2011, with the  imposing theme " WORKING TOGETHER Saving Tomorrow Today".
Under the National Climate Change Respoinse White Paper, Published in October 2011. This fairly impressive document is summarised in the obejctive:
“South Africa will build the climate resilience of the country, its economy and its people and manage the transition to a climate-resilient, equitable and internationally competitive lower-carbon economy and society in a manner that simultaneously addresses South Africa’s over-riding national priorities for sustainable development, job creation, improved public and environmental health, poverty ereadication, and social equitality. In nthis regards, South Africa Will:
  • Effectively manage inevitable climate change impacts through interventions that build and sustain South Africa’s social, economic and environmental resilience and emergency response capacity.
  • Make fair contribution to the global effort to stabilise GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that avoids dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system within a time frame that enables economic, and environmental development to proceed in a sustainable manner.
But the question reamains of how South Africa is going to achieve this very noble goals as set out above?
Major emitters have been named (not yet shamed), amongst which is ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) – it is being placed forth in South Africa with a figure of 10.73 million tonnes/year of CO being emitted (Carbon Disclosure Project – 2010). Examining the response of the Government to AMSA in the past, one could not help but to conclude that the “soft” approach to AMSA (and it’s often total disregard of the environment) was slightly tinted by the carrot of a ZAR 9.1 billion empowerment deal AMSA was dangling, that would have involved the “sale” of 26% of it’s shares to black investors – which coincidentally included the son of President Zuma. After AMSA announced the scrapping of the deal in September 2011, due mostly to the negative reaction the deal elicited – not least from ArcelorMittal shareholders – as it was not done in a transparent way (rather in the ArcelorMittal way!), can the public now expect AMSA to be held ccountable for it’s misdeeds?

Not only does AMSA produce vast amounts of CO 2, but also of CH4 -  Methane  - a greenhouse gas with  a warming potential over 100 years of 25X that of CO2 (Shindell, D.T.;Faluvegi, G; koch, D.M, Schmidt,G.A.;Unger, N; Bauer, S.E. ( 2009). " Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions". Science 326( 953):716-8)

One of the main sources of CH 4 production is from gas flaring  -  with 4 production is from gas flaring -  with 0.27 metric tonnes being produced per ton CO2 released from flaring, effectively increasing the effect of their emissions - when measured against direct CO2 being emitted -  considerably. In 2003 a company called EcoElectrica (a female empowerment group) started negotiations with ISCOR ( which later became ISPAT-ISCOR, when Mr. Laksami Mittal took it over, then Mittal Steel -  then finally ArcelorMittal) to develop a project generate electricity from the gas being flared in Vanderbijlpark. After working with EcoElectrica on the basis of a joint venture on the project duing 2006. ArcelorMittal eventually withdrew from the project and pursued it themselves -  leaving EcoElectrica the option of a legal balttle if they wanted to protect their rights. At the end of 2007( December) AMSA even filled a Project Design Document ( PDD) with the UNFCC for registration of a Clean Development Mechanism ( CDM) - project entitled:" ArcelorMittal South Africa Supuls Gas to Energy Project".

In 2008 AMSA filed a scoping report called “ENVIRONMENTAL SCOPING REPORT FOR THE INSTALLATION OF A POWER GENERATING PLANT USING EXCESS FURNACE BY-PRODUCT GASES, ARCELORMITTAL SOUTH AFRICA - VANDERBIJLPARK WORKS, VANDERBIJLPARK”. This plant is still to be completed and in a issue of Engineering News dated 29 July 2010 it quoted the CEO of Vanderbijlpark – Johan Fourie telling Engineering News that the group is still assessing the economics of the different power projects, "some big, others small", adding that not all the opportunities would necessarily prove viable. That is a look at but some of the gasses being directly released by AMSA into the atmosphere.

With cognisance of the “Waste Management Flagship Programme” contained in the Governmental White Paper, the solid waste being produced my AMSA also warrants a closer look. In 2009 AMSA produced 3.5 million tonnes of waste material at its Vanderbijlpark facility (ArcelorMittal South Africa Sustainability Report 2009). Although the plant has a capacity of 4.4 million tonnes of liquid steel (ArcelorMittal South Africa Sustainability Report 2009), it produces roughly about 3.5 million tonnes per year (Engineering News, & January 2008).This equates to 1 ton of waste for each ton of steel being produced. In a similar vein to the gas recycling project referred to above, a Brick making project was also proposed to Vanderbijpark in 2003. It went a few steps further, with the plant being constructed on the Vanderbijlpark site. It got a formal mention in the Sustainability Report, 2009 (quoted above). AMSA stated under the heading “Waste Reduction Projects” that Phase 1 of the clay brick project would reduce disposal through dumping by 150 000 ton per annum, and that phase 1 was to have been implemented in 2010 with “commercial negotiations in progress”. Solid waste being dumped on the open dumpsites at the Vanderbijpark plant could have been worked away through the manufacturing of clay bricks. The first dump site at the plant was closed in December 2010, holding about 140 million cubic meters of solid waste material – according to Karien Zantov – Environmental Manager for AMSA (quoted in Engineering News, July 2011). In addition this plant could also have used flared gas, and it could have used waste water from the steel plant.

All efforts to get this plant operational by the developing company has been frustrated by AMSA and they have apparently initiated a process to buy the plant and process out, but have been stalling the process since 2009 – whilst millions more tonnes of waste material have been dumped. Although this material does not directly contribute to any GHG emissions, it remains at risk to combust due to the high carbon content of some of the material being dumped. All the while though, it leaches materials such as iron, boron, manganese, magnesium, sodium, calcium and lithium (to name but a few elements) into the ground and into the Vaal River system. The local inhabitants around the plant has been for years trying to fight this, but has been stymied with AMSA’s financial might and “untouchable” tag (maybe as a result of the BEE deal referred to herein?). Lithium for example is known corrosive and requires special handling to avoid skin contact. Breathing lithium dust or lithium compounds (which are often alkaline) initially irritate the nose and throat, while higher exposure can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs, leading to pulmonary edema. The metal itself is a handling hazard because of the caustic hydroxide produced when it is in contact with moisture. Lithium is safely stored in non-reactive compounds such as naphtha. (Furr, A. K. (2000). CRC handbook of laboratory safety. Boca Raton: CRC Press. pp. 244–246.) The combined Lithium leachate of all the waste streams dumped at Vanderbijlpark is 4.2 parts per million, whilst for Manganese it is 1 458 parts per million. Wikipedia cites the following:

Manganese compounds are less toxic than those of other widespread metals such as nickel and copper.[42] However, exposure to manganese dusts and fumes should not exceed the ceiling value of 5 mg/m3 even for short periods because of its toxicity level.[43] Manganese poisoning has been linked to impaired motor skills and cognitive disorders.[44] The permanganate exhibits a higher toxicity than the manganese(II) compounds. The fatal dose is about 10 g, and several fatal intoxications have occurred. The strong oxidative effect leads to necrosis of the mucous membrane. For example, the esophagus is affected if the permanganate is swallowed. Only a limited amount is absorbed by the intestines, but this small amount shows severe effects on the kidneys and on the liver.[45][46] In 2005, a study suggested a possible link between manganese inhalation and central nervous system toxicity in rats.[47] It is hypothesized that long-term exposure to the naturally occurring manganese in shower water puts up to 8.7 million Americans at risk.[47][48][49] A form of neurodegeneration[50] similar to Parkinson's Disease called "manganism" has been linked to manganese exposure amongst miners and smelters since the early 19th century.[51] Allegations of inhalation-induced manganism have been made regarding the welding industry. Manganese exposure in United States is regulated by Occupational Safety and Health Administration.[52]According to results from a 2010 study,[53] higher levels of exposure to manganese in drinking water are associated with increased intellectual impairment and reduced intelligence quotients in school-age children.

Clinical toxicity Manganism has occurred in persons employed in the production or processing of manganese alloys, patients receiving total parenteral nutrition, workers exposed to manganese-containing fungicides such as maneb, and abusers of drugs such as methcathinone made with potassium permanganate. Excessive exposure may be confirmed by measurement of blood or urine manganese concentrations.[54] Chronic exposure to excessive Mn levels can lead to a variety of psychiatric and motor disturbances, termed manganism. Generally, exposure to ambient Mn air concentrations in excess of 5 μg Mn/m3 can lead to Mn-induced symptoms. Increased ferroportin protein expression in human embryonic kidney (HEK293) cells is associated with decreased intracellular Mn concentration and attenuated cytotoxicity, characterized by the reversal of Mn-reduced glutamate uptake and diminished lactate ehydrogenase (LDH) leakage.[55](End of Wikipedia quote) A study by the American Environment Protection Agency (EPA) called “Drinking Water Health Advisor for Manganese” dated January 2004 quote the under-mentioned study regarding the effects of manganese contamination through leaching into drinking water: A recently published case study (Woolf et al., 2002) reported increased manganese levels in the hair and blood of a 10-year-old child exposed to increased manganese in drinking water. The child had been ingesting drinking water supplied by a well for 5 years prior to a clinic visit for evaluation of over-exposure to manganese. In addition, the family lived in a house near a toxic waste dump. An evaluation of the well water performed four months prior to the child's health assessment indicated that manganese and iron levels in the water were both elevated, with concentrations of 1.21(reference level, 0.05 mg/L) and 15.7 mg/L, respectively.

The child's whole blood and serum manganese levels were 3.82 :g/100 ml (reference normal, <1.4 :g/100 ml) and 0.90 :g/100 ml (reference normal, <0.265 :g/100 ml), respectively. The child's hair manganese level was 3,091 ppb of washed, acid-digested hair (reference normal, <260 ppb hair). Although the child's 16-year-old brother did not exhibit elevated blood manganese, he did have increased manganese in his hair. The 10-year-old did not exhibit any clinical effects of manganese over-exposure (cogwheeling, abnormally high muscle tone, fixed facies, etc.) and had good balance with closed eyes, although he did have trouble coordinating rapid alternating motor movements(this deficiency is consistent with the test performance of occupational workers chronically exposed to airborne manganese). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the child's brain did not indicate any hyperintense signaling of the globus pallidus, basal ganglia, mid-brain or pons, which would indicate manganese deposition in these areas of the brain. Selective deposition of manganese in the globus pallidus and basal ganglia has been shown to occur in children and adults with chronic manganese overexposure (Devenyi et al., 1994; Hauser et al.1996). The absence of the signaling argues against manganese toxicity.  Results from a battery of neuropsychologic tests on the child indicated that global cognition was unimpaired.

While the plight of the residents around the Vanderbijlpark plant has been ignored in the past, it cannot be refuted that the leaching danger from the Vanderbijlpark dup-site and the continuation of the dumping practices of AMSA pose very real dangers. AMSA are one of the few remaining iron and steel producers worldwide that utilise open dumpsites for the disposal of their waste material. This gives them a massive cost of production advantage over their competitors that dispose of waste material to regulated dump sites (at a substantial price per ton of waste material). They clearly have proven solutions to some of their biggest environmental problems at hand, but chose not to employ these, as it is altogether too easy for them to continue with “business as usual” - as they are firstly allowed to do so, and secondly care more about making the extra profit, than spending it on a long-term strategy that will also benefit the rest of the people in South Africa, and the environment directly. Instead, as illustrated above, they choose to pay lipservice to their “commitment” to the environment. For South Africa – being squarely in the environmental spot-light at the moment – it is clearly a case of action speaking louder than words, and how the Government chose to act against companies like ArcelorMittal in the light of some of its practices illuminated herein will ultimately be how the Government will be judged in terms of its commitment to the environment in general.