Wednesday, 7 March 2012 - Vaal community indoor air quality monitoring

Vaal, Gauteng Province, South Africa – Winter in the Vaal means average temperatures of about 8º Celsius. When it's that cold, you need to keep yourself warm but many communities in this area are not afforded the basic right to electricity, which forces them to rely on cheap fossil fuels to do so. On top of this, dirty industries situated near these communities pollute throughout the day and night, adding to the mix of noxious gases that people breathe in.

Following community concerns about ongoing indoor and outdoor air pollution in the Vaal Triangle Priority Area over the winter period, the Vaal Justice Environmental Alliance in partnership with groundWork undertook indoor air quality monitoring to measure actual levels of indoor ambient air quality and compare these to National ambient standards for PM10 as well as the heavy metals contained within these particulate matter.
In particular we were concerned about the ongoing reliance of community people on using fossil fuels indoors (for spatial heating and cooking), and the ever worrying persistent reliance by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) on promoting cleaner indoor fossil fuel burning methodologies such as the Basa Magogo.
In August 2011, community people measured indoor air quality in four houses over a period of 24 hours. The results of these 24 hour indoor air measurements is presented in Table 1 and compared to the South African ambient air quality standard which were established to protect public health.

Table 1: Representing the total volume of air filtered through oil Teflon filters and their particulate (PM10) concentrations.


Sample number

Total time/hrs

Average flow rate (dm3/min)

Total volume of air filtered (m3)

Particulate concentration measured in ug/m3

Current & future South African ambient air quality standard (24hr)
Current     Future (2015)

1

24

5.5

7.92

114

120 ug/m3 immediate

75 ug/m3 effective from 1 Jan 2015

2

24

5

7.2

13.89

3

24

5.25

7.56

595.24

4

24

5.5

7.92

252.53

 
In comparison to the current and future ambient air quality standard for PM10 these results are quite alarming – in one instance the ambient air quality standard is exceeded fourfold. In comparison the current WHO recommended standard for PM10 (24hrs) is only 50 ug/m3 the results are even more alarming.

Once the filters were analysed to determine their PM10 concentrations they were digested at a SANAS accredited laboratory to determine the metals present and their respective concentrations. Table 2 shows the concentrations of various metals which were found to be present on the filters.

The harmful effects of toxic chemicals is well documented in the medical literature.  Annex 1 summarises some of the health effects of exposure to toxic metals. It is important to note that this analysis did not address emissions from building materials and household products, such as benzene and formaldehyde, and other indoor air contaminants.
We are demanding from the government ministries that an integrated approach to air quality management and planning becomes fundamental, especially in the context of the poverty, substandard housing and spatial heating that is a common feature throughout the Vaal and Highveld. People are simply asking for the democratisation of our energy supply and consumption, so that those in most need of energy to protect their basic rights are afforded a meaningful say in the way South Africa's energy future is decided. This future needs to answer to peoples' basic needs. In other words, energy sovereignty is a must.

Table 2: Filter papers were digested, and then analyzed using the ICP-MS and the results were calculated using mass and volume to represent the results in mg/kg

Sample No

1
W 974/11

2
W975/11

3
W976/11

4
W977/11

units

mg/kg

mg/kg

mg/kg

mg/kg

Lithium

211

880

26

42

Strontium

7111

6900

256

315

Cadmium

49

60

10.23

7.00

Barium

37889

437000

7791

19150

Mercury

10778

81000

5279

5100

Lead

6444

6600

374

365

Magnesium

112778

270000

8233

8500

Aluminium

169444

221000

8465

10550

Silicon

44889

472000

6651

10400

Chromium

6889

38000

465

1150

Manganese

28333

13000

721

600

Iron

-

-

-

-

Cobalt 478

478

460

23

14.50

Nickel

1889

4700

86

250

Copper

7444

122000

12698

8050

Zinc

53444

256000

6674

13100

Arsenic

278

1100

40

105

Potassium

71667

591000

15070

30800

 

Annex 1: Summary of harmful effects of inhaling selected heavy metals

(Pb) LEAD: Clinical effects range from chronic exposures, including severe gastrointestinal disturbances with constipation, abdominal pain and tenderness. Other effects include anaemia, weakness, pallor, anorexia, insomnia, renal hypertension and mental fatigue. Air Quality Standards: 0.5-1.0ug.m3 long-term (e.g. annual mean) (WHO, guidelines)

(Hg) MERCURY: Chronic exposure may lead to CNS disturbances such as personality changes, hallucinations, delirium, insomnia, decreased appetite, irritability, headache and memory loss. Air Quality Standards: 1 mg.m3 averaging time 1 year, indoor air (WHO, guideline)

(Cr) CHROMIUM: Breathing high levels of chromium(VI) can cause irritation to the nose, such as runny nose, nosebleeds, and ulcers and holes in the nasal septum. Ingesting large amounts of chromium(VI) can cause stomach upsets and ulcers, convulsions, kidney and liver damage, and even death. Skin contact with certain chromium(VI) compounds can cause skin ulcers. Some people are extremely sensitive to chromium(VI) or chromium(III). Allergic reactions consisting of severe redness and swelling of the skin have been noted. Air Quality Standard: Exposure limit (Massachusetts community air quality standard): 0.1ug/m3 or 100ng/m3 (MA Dv Air Quality Control, 1998) for environmental exposure.

(Mn) MANGANESE: Manganese penetrates the lower respiratory tract toward the alveolar membranes, leading to dyspnoea, pneumonitis, pneumonia and bronchitis. Manganism, or 'manganese madness' is characterised by headache, asthenia, irritability; transitory psychological disturbances such as hallucinations, apathy, confusion, insomnia, compulsive behaviour, decreased libido, impotence and emotional instability are often found early in the disease. As exposure continues, symptoms include generalised muscle weakness, speech impairment, nystagmus, inco-ordination, memory impairment, tremor, incontinence, paraesthesia and muscle cramps. Advanced stages include excess salivation, inappropriate emotional reactions and Parkinson-like symptoms, such as mask-like face, severe muscle rigidity, gait disorders and other extrapyramidal symptoms. Established neurological symptoms tend to persist or even progress in the absence of additional exposure.  Air Quality Standards: 1 mg/m3 (WHO, guideline).

(Al) ALUMINIUM: Occupational exposure may result in asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease and pulmonary fibrosis. Long-term overexposure may cause dyspnoea, cough, pneumothorax, variable sputum production and nodular interstitial fibrosis; death has been reported. Chronic exposure may result in asthma which is probably related to the inhalation of fumes and particulate matter.

(Zn) ZINC: Excessive (especially chronic) oral intake of zinc reduces absorption of copper and immune function.  Zinc is very toxic to fish and is expected to bioaccumulate. Drinking Water Standards: Zinc: 5000ug.l-1 (UK, max), & ;& ;300ug.l-1 (WHO, level where customers may complain). Soil Guidelines: Dutch Criteria: Zinc: 140 mg.kg-1 (Target) ] and 720 mg.kg-1 (Intervention) · Air Quality Standards: no data available.

(Cu) COPPER: Industrial chronic copper poisoning is associated with anorexia, nausea, vomiting and liver complications. Exposure to copper-contaminated tap water has been reported to cause green pigmentation of blonde hair. Green discolouration of the skin may occur following chronic dermal exposure. Drinking Water Standards: 3000 mg.l-1 (UK, max); 2000 mg.l-1 (WHO, provisional guideline); 1000 mg.l-1 (WHO, level where customers may complain); Soil Guidelines: Dutch Criteria: 36 mg.kg-1 (Target) 190 mg.kg-1 (Intervention); Air Quality Standards: no data available.

For more information on the harmful effects of chemicals on human health please see the following weblinks:
http://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/en/ 
http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/index.asp

The filters were digested using an aqua-regia digestion. The digests were analysed by ICP-MS by Talbot & Talbot Laboratories in Pietermaritzburg.