Communities and parliamentarians discuss air pollution in SA's pollution "hot spots"

03 April 2003 - This afternoon residents from South Africa’s pollution hot spots met with parliamentarians in Cape Town to share their experiences of industrial air pollution, and to hand over a memorandum to the parliamentarians calling for specific actions to be taken to bring about a reduction of industrial air pollution in South Africa’s pollution hot spots. The afternoon ended with the parliamentarians and community members taking a “toxic tour” of Cape Town’s northwest areas, in particular Table View (location of the Caltex refinery) and Vissershoek (location of a toxic landfill site).

For the past two days about 20 community members from South Africa’s pollution hot spots have been attending a workshop in Cape Town focused on how to reduce industrial air pollution in their neighbourhoods. The participants have been drawn from Secunda, Sasolburg, south Durban, Richards Bay, Vanderbijl Park and the North West areas of Cape Town. The workshop was organised by groundWork.

This afternoon representatives from two affected communities – Morning Star, which is adjacent to Vissershoek, and Steel Valley which is adjacent to Iscor in Vanderbijl Park, gave presentations to the parliamentarians on the impact that air pollution has had on the daily lives of the people living in their respective communities.

Samson Mokoena from the Steel Valley Crisis Committee spoke of the enormous suffering he and his neighbours have experienced due to Iscor’s contamination of groundwater and consequently borehole water – the only source of water in the area. “We have to use this water for drinking, cooking, washing and everything else. There are no water pipes in our area, so we have no choice but to drink the toxic water,” he said. “We used to have a lively and productive community, but now most people have moved away because the water has made them sick. Their cattle also get sick and die and their vegetables and crops die.”

The community is in the process of instituting a class action to claim damages from Iscor for the health, property and other losses they have suffered.

Advocate Paul Homann presented on mercury poisoning amongst residents of the Morning Star community, adjacent to the Vissershoek toxic landfill site. Other pollutants also detected at high levels in wind blown dust in the area included aluminium (which exceeded the acceptable limit by almost 3000 times) and arsenic.

Following the community presentations, Desmond D’SA of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance read out the participants’ memorandum on Air Quality Management of Pollution Hot Spots in South Africa.

For more information contact Ardiel Soeker on 0829408669

Memorandum to the portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs and Tourism

Air Quality Management of Pollution Hotspots in South Africa

Honourable Members, we address you in the context of emerging legislation on Air Quality Management. We are mindful of the provisions of Section 24 of the National Constitution (the right to an environment which is not harmful to health and well-being)., the National Environmental Management Act, and national consensus around the principle of sustainable Development.

1. We request you to consider specific provision in the forthcoming legislation to address the operations of scheduled activities. This will facilitate effective environmental management since scheduled activities have the largest impact on air quality and on health. Such specific provisions are considered appropriate given that there are approx. 4000 scheduled activities in South Africa.

Such provisions should:

(a) make provision for control and management of scheduled activity operations by National government. This will rationalise procedures and regulations which allow loopholes for industry to operate irresponsibly.

(b) Oblige public officials to introduce mechanisms and planning frameworks to facilitate transparency accredited independent validation of compliance with permit conditions and compliance audits.

2. All legislation regarding pollution, should include stringent controls appropriate penalties and provision for compensation for medical expenses and general damages caused by pollution. This will end current unjust practices such as sending home affected workers on short pay and forcing communities to bear the costs of their pollution-induced illnesses. Consideration should be given to the shifting the burden of proof onto the alleged offender in the event of an injustice.

3. In addition we request intervention, linked to specific time frames into the below listed hot spot areas.

Such interventions should include:

(a) Promote a supportive relationship between government and hot spot communities

(b) Make provision for resources to deepen the capacity of these communities by providing user friendly information, promoting the right to information and allowing meaningful participation in decision making processes.

(c) Increase budget provision effectively to implement interventions

(d) Establish the health impacts in these hot spot areas

(e) Address the two main causes of domestic coal burning, viz, cost of electricity and service delivery. Clean renewable sources of energy need to be provided.

Finally honourable members we believe that you are well placed to lead an international process towards a Global Convention on Corporate Accountability. The Schedule activities that we encounter are led by multi-national companies and the issues we deal with are, therefore internationally relevant. This should utilise international benchmarks based on the best of best practices.

From:

Sasolburg
Secunda
Vanderbijl Park
Richards Bay
Durban- South
Cape Town – North West areas
Supported by groundWork