Engen Violates Permit Conditions – City Authorities Fail To Act

07 July 2005 - In probably the first test case for the new National Environment Management: Air Quality Act 2004 [1] the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance [2] and groundWork [3] are seeking answers as to why the eThekwini Municipality is failing to take action against Engen for violating their permit conditions.

The Engen Refinery permit [4] states that the operations at Engen must not contribute to exceedences of sulphur dioxide [5] 10 minute World Health Organisational guideline on more than 35 occasions annually. During the period of 7 March 2005 to the 9 April 2005 an investigation undertaken by the SDCEA highlighted that the eThekwini Health Department’s monitoring station at Settlers School recorded 64 exceedences of the 10 minute WHO guideline related to Engen operations. This translates to Engen violating the permit condition during this period on 29 occasions.

The eThekwini Health Department corresponded with Engen on the 18 March 2005 indicating that already by then there was 13 exceedences recorded which were related to Engen. It is critical to note that in every progress report on the Air Quality Programme produced by the eThekwini Health Department states that the “permitting system will be the chief institutional vehicle to affect the reduction programmes”. The new National Environment Management: Air Quality Act 2004 also lays the responsibility for action at the doorstep of the eThekwini Municipality.

SDCEA in correspondence to the eThekwini Municipality dated 24 May 2005 indicated concern “with the continuous violations of the permit issued to the Engen Refinery … it is critical because it touches the only precise and enforceable demand in the Engen permit.” SDCEA and groundWork is concerned by the fact that there is failure to take action on this violation.

In further correspondence to the eThekwini Municipality on the 13 June 2005, SDCEA indicates that: “The situation with the violation of the Engen permit is the first example of the authorities’ ability to enforce the permit conditions and until now SDCEA does not find that the course has been satisfactory.”

Farida Khan of SDCEA and Birgit Tejg Jensen of Denmark who have been following this case is concerned by the Municipality’s slow response to this critical violation of the permit that has a direct impact on the learners of Settlers School. “Our children’s health is compromised by the corporate violations and we demand that the city take action immediately” states Farida Khan.

Engen did undertake an investigation into these exceedences and they indicate that: “No significant operation problems were identified.” The investigation indicates that the increase in SO2 concentrations “were dependent on meteorological conditions”. “Blaming the weather conditions is an age old excuse used by industry” indicates Siziwe Khanyile, the groundWork Air Quality Coordinator. “What is significant is that there are exceedences during normal operating conditions and this is critical, because what Engen is admitting to is that they need to improve their normal operating conditions and this is we want.”

Engen has indicated in the report that they are going to install continuous monitoring of their sulphur in their fuel gas and investigations are been done on a de-sulphurization additive to reduce sulphur emissions from the Engen plant.

After detailed investigations by SDCEA and indicating clear examples of violations in the Engen permit, the question must be asked if the eThekwini Municipality is serious about holding industries accountable for their pollution. Industry must be made to understand that the new permits are legal documents and as such must be respected. If the administration is not able to enforce the permits, the whole monitor programme is in vain.

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[2] SDCEA is a local environmental justice organisation based in south Durban that provides a collective voice for the various community organisations and residents in south Durban, who live adjacent to the petro-chemical industrial developments in the south Durban area.

[3] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working focusing on air pollution, waste and corporate abuse and works with community organisations living adjacent to petro-chemical facilities in south Durban, Sasolburg, Secunda and Cape Town. (

[4] eThekwini Municipality 24 December 2004.

[5] For information on SO2 visit