groundWork is a non-profit environmental justice service and developmental organization working primarily in Southern Africa in the areas of Climate & Energy Justice, Coal, Environmental Health, Global Green and Healthy Hospitals, and Waste. groundWork is the South African member of Health Care Without Harm and Friends of the Earth International.


Waste-pickers - Can they develop a sustainable and decent livelihood?

11 July 2019 - South Africa's rate of unemployment is at 40% in terms of the expanded definition and job-losses due to company retrenchments are continuing. South Africa is also reputed to have the highest level of inequality in the world.

While the government has continued to fail to deliver on promises of job-creation, many unemployed people are creatively surviving and ensuring their own livelihoods while simultaneously contributing to a cleaner environment. One such group is the growing number of waste-pickers.

Listen to the Workers' World discussion on this topic with Musa Chamane - waste campaigner from Groundwork in Pietermaritzburg and Maditlhare Koena - Western Cape provincial co-ordinator for the South African Waste Pickers Association by clicking here.

Picture: Simon Waller for groundWork

Doubling SO2 pollution standards would have deadly consequences for Highveld communities

11 July 2019 - A new study has shown that the doubling of air pollution standards for sulphur dioxide (SO2), proposed by the previous Environment Minister Nomvula Mokonyane in May 2019, would cause thousands of deaths on the Highveld.

The study conducted by Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at Greenpeace Global Air Pollution Unit, shows that, over time, an estimated 3,300 premature deaths would be caused by doubling the SO2 standard, as a result of increased risk of lower respiratory infections, increased risk of stroke, and increased risk of death from diabetes – with approximately 1,000 of these premature deaths estimated in Gauteng. The studies also show profound health impacts on children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those already suffering from asthma, heart, and lung disease.

In October 2018, former Minister Mokonyane published the doubled SO2 minimum emission standard (MES) limit without having invited public comment, as the Air Quality Act requires. In April 2019, environmental justice group groundWork was forced to institute to set aside the unlawful notice. In May 2019, the Minister withdrew the unlawful notice and gave the public 30 days to comment on the same proposal to weaken the SO2 standard.

Last month, the Life After Coal Campaign (LAC), along with 4 community-based organisations, submitted detailed and comprehensive objections to the proposal.

From the outset, LAC and the community-based organisations have vigorously objected to the Department of Environmental Affairs’ proposal to weaken the MES limit for SO2, a highly toxic pollutant that is known to cause significant harm to human health and the environment.

This amendment would allow all coal-fired boilers to emit double their previously allowed SO2 pollution from 1 April 2020, including Eskom and Sasol, South Africa’s biggest emitters of SO2. Eskom’s coal-fired power stations and Sasol’s coal boilers are all located in South Africa’s air pollution priority areas - the Highveld Priority Area, the Vaal Triangle Airshed Priority Area, and the Waterberg-Bojanala Priority Area – declared as such due to the already-deadly levels of air pollution in these areas.

The LAC and its community-based partners argue that it would be plainly unlawful for government to weaken the MES, which were set more than 9 years ago to reduce the detrimental impacts caused by air pollutants such as SO2.

Doubling the already-lax SO2 MES, would make these approximately 10 times weaker than the equivalent standard in India and 28 times weaker than the equivalent standard in China. If the Department does weaken the limit, these organisations contend that this would be a clear violation of South Africa’s air quality laws and of the Constitution, making it unlawful and invalid.

Read the full media release here.

New Full Disclosure Report: How a broken regulatory system allows Mpumalanga coal mines to pollute water with impunity

03 July 2019 - A new report on the compliance of eight large coal mining operations in Mpumalanga, released by the Centre for Environmental Rights today, has uncovered many cases of significant non-compliance with water use licences – licences which are an essential requirement for the commencement of their mining activities.

The report, which forms part of the CER’s Full Disclosure series, reveals complete failure by the Department of Water & Sanitation to monitor compliance with water use licences for the eight coal mines and to take enforcement action where violations are patently obvious, painting a picture of a broken national department unable to fulfill its statutory mandate of water resource protection.

This is despite the fact that the Upper Olifants Catchment, where the eight coal mines are situated, has been identified by that department as one of South Africa’s most stressed catchment areas in relation to both water quantity and quality. Six of the eight companies assessed in CER’s new report collectively use around 8 million cubic metres of water per annum – equivalent to approximately 3195 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Coal mining is particularly harmful to water resources, with acid mine drainage from coal mines polluting surface and groundwater with acid, salts and metals. The Upper Olifants Catchment is characterised by a high density of active and abandoned coal mines, coal fired power stations and acid mine water discharge sites, resulting in severe degradation of water quality in the catchment.

Read the full CER media release here.

Environmental groups take government to High Court over violation of Constitutional right to clean air

Groups claim pollution from coal-fired power plants in the Highveld Priority Area violates right to a healthy environment under the Constitution

10 June 2019 - On Friday, 7 June 2019, environmental justice group groundWork and Mpumalanga community organisation Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action (Vukani) launched landmark litigation demanding that government clean up the air in the Mpumalanga Highveld.

groundWork and Vukani, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), claim that government has violated the Constitutional right to a healthy environment for the people living and working in the Highveld Priority Area (HPA), by failing to improve the deadly levels of air pollution in the HPA.

“Living in Witbank, one of the most polluted areas in the country, has hugely affected our health and lives. Both government and industry have continuously failed to deal with the problem, irrespective of our efforts to engage with them to ensure they take steps to protect human health. Together with groundWork, Vukani has decided to use litigation to push government to take urgent steps to deal with the high air pollution and in the interest of our health and to protect our right to clean air”, says Vusi Mabaso, Chairperson of Vukani.

In 2007, the then Minister of Environmental Affairs declared the Highveld as a Priority Area because of its poor air quality. At the time, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) acknowledged that it was an air pollution hotspot of extremely poor air quality and that “there was little doubt that people living and working in these areas do not enjoy air quality that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing”. Nearly 5 years later, in 2012, the Minister published an air quality management plan(“the HPA AQMP”) to clean up the Highveld Priority Area’s air pollution. But since then, little has changed.

Read the full media release here.

2019 World Environment Day highlights SA deaths due to air pollution

04 June 2019 - On the 5th of June each year, the United Nations hosts World Environment Day, which is used to bring global awareness to severe environmental issues that require urgent political action.
This year’s World Environment Day is especially significant for South Africa where air pollution from coal-fired power stations kills more than 2 200 people every year. The theme for the 2019 United Nation’s annual World Environmental Day is “Beat Air Pollution” and aims to draw attention to the silent killer around us.

According to recent data from the World Health Organization, more than 7 million people die from air pollution, globally, every year. This includes more than 1.7 million child deaths every year, worldwide.

A 2017 report by UK-based air quality and health expert, Dr Mike Holland, found that air pollution from Eskom coal-fired power stations kills more than 2,200 South Africans every year, and causes thousands of cases of bronchitis and asthma in adults and children annually. “This costs the country more than R34 billion annually, through hospital admissions and lost working days,” says Bobby Peek, Director of environmental justice group groundWork.

Read the full media release here.

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