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