More Urgent Action is Required Against Polluters

15 October 2009 - The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs recently launched their 2005 State of the Air Report and also held a Lekgotla for two days from 12-13 October 2009.

As civil society, the progress made in the management of air quality in South Africa is considered positive, and is a direct result of community people challenging polluting industry and government inaction.

However, there are some concerns:

The constitution provides for the right to an environment that is not harmful to health and wellbeing. But many community people who live in pollution hotspots do not believe that their quality of life and health has been positively impacted. This scenario is very worrying because it might mean that regulators are not addressing the most worrying pollutants and toxic compounds like persistent organic pollutants (POP’s) including dioxin and furans and many heavy metals commonly associated with polluting industries. These are not being monitored, and it may be that these pollutants are the ones which have the greatest impact on health.

We also face the problem of poor data availability from monitoring stations which limits the ability of the enforcement and compliance officers to attribute pollution exceedences to any particular industry and take action. There is no evidence that enforcement and compliance officers have acted on emissions exceedences data. More alarmingly, data is often ignored or misinterpreted by authorities [1].

Our government’s energy and development path is both unsustainable and polluting. The plans for a new oil refinery at Coega (Petro SA), the Coal-to-Liquid (Sasol) plant in the Waterberg and the planned new coal fired power stations are an indication that we are a long way from honestly, adequately and decisively addressing air pollution in South Africa.

Indoor air pollution is said to be the most serious and pressing national air pollution problem. However, in the absence of reliable emissions data from industry relative to pollution from domestic uses this belief is largely unfounded. Even if poor air quality was largely from domestic use this should not give industry the right to pollute, and additionally the onus should be on industry to minimise the added impact on communities as much as possible. Poor communities do not have a choice for domestic energy and spatial heating needs, they have to burn fuels indoors. There should be an inter-governmental approach by all relevant government departments to resolve this issue and phase out all indoor fuel burning as a matter of urgency, secure processes for affordable and alternative energy for domestic use and provide government housing of a standard that allows for proper insulation in winter.

As groundWork, we are concerned that with all the legislative measures put in place, we are not seeing evidence of a related improvement in the health of impacted communities. We are also concerned that the polluter pays principle is not effected.

For more information:

Siziwe Khanyile:

073 830 8173 / 033 342 5662 /siziwe@groundwork.org.za

[1] This press release is in response to the eThekwini Municipality’s investigation into the gassing of pupils in Chatsworth, Durban and indicates how the authorities have purposefully misused information.

Press Release: SDCEA, groundWork and BULBUL Drive Dump Site Action Committee in response to the press statement on Page 3 of the Mercury Monday 12th October 2009 . Children recover and School reopens as probe seeks source of ‘fumes’

In response to the eThekwini Preliminary Report: Odour at Gitanjali School and from the meteorology data provided by the Dbn International station the following observations can be made:

1. That the wind direction on the 8th October fluctuated quite significantly e.g. at 05h00 the wind direction was 000, by 08h00 it was 350, and an hour later at 09h00 it was 150 which is SSE12 – the exact wind vector from the Bulbul Landfill site and the Gitanjali Primary School. The wind direction then changes again by 10h00 towards a SSW direction over the next 2 hours

2. The data provided within the Report prepared eThekwini Health Unit showing the meteorology data recorded by the Southern Works Station shows wind direction predominantly from westerly direction between 10h00 and 10h30.

3. This data is contradictory to the Dbn International station and considering that these two meteorology stations are in close proximity illustrates how wind direction can differ within similar localities – unless there is another explanation for this anomaly i.e. faulty equipment etc.

4. The Dbn International station is closer to Bulbul LFS and should therefore be more reliable to determine wind direction which would in fact validate the community concerns that chemical odours emanating from the LFS is the reason why school children experienced adverse respiratory outcomes from this exposure.

5. Schoolchildren started experiencing chemical odours sometime after 09h00 and by 10h00 began experiencing symptoms – the meteorology data from the Dbn International station support this hypothesis

6. Furthermore, this LFS and community are in a vicinity with hills and valleys where small micro-climatic conditions are not uncommon – these should have been investigated more thoroughly.

7. It is our understanding that the Bulbul LFS is obliged to monitor chemicals as part of their fenceline monitoring program – why is no meteorological and chemical data available from this site?

8. The eThekwini Health Unit knowingly made an error in judgement by relying solely on the Southern Works meteorology data and should have investigated this incident more thoroughly. Mischievously the Bulbul LFS site and management were let off the hook and were not thoroughly investigated through proper air sampling, a ‘weak permit’ etc.

9. We demand an independent investigation done by scientists from the University of UKZN or Durban University of Technology with the cooperation of the BULBUL Drive Dumpsite Action Committee. We demand the involvement of the National government independent of the provincial and Local Government as they would be deemed bias by the local Chatsworth community who have bore the brunt of this dumpsite for over twenty years.