groundWork calls on Pietermaritzburg Politicians to Act on Air Pollution Problems

20 September 2005 - At a Msunduzi Air Quality Forum meeting this afternoon, the environmental justice and human rights organisation groundWork [1] called on the Msunduzi Municipality politicians to support their officials in developing mechanisms to reduce air pollution in the Pietermaritzburg area as a matter of political urgency.

Over the last few months, groundWork at the behest of community and government took five grab air samples around Pietermaritzburg and got them analysed by Columbia Analytical based in Simi Valley, California, USA.

These samples have indicated elevated levels of various chemicals such as Benzene, Toluene, m, p-Xylene, Ethyl Benzene, Chlorobenzene, Styrene, Chloroethane, Chloromethane, Hydrogen Sulfide, Carbonyl Sulfide, Methyl Mercaptan, Methyl Ethyl Ketone, Tetrachloroethane.

At the burning Msunduzi Landfill site on the 2 June, benzene concentration in the air was 720 ug/m3, and exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency Ambient Air Screening Level (0.25 ug/m3) by 2,880 times and exceeded the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality Annual Standard (12 ug/m3) by 60 times. Elevated Benzene levels were also found in community neighbourhoods in Northdale, along the N3 Freeway as well as on the fenceline of the FFS Oil Refinery in Edendale.

Siziwe Khanyile, Air Quality Project Coordinator for groundWork mapped out the historical problem in her address to the Mzunduzi Air Quality Forum and called on the city politicians to “take urgent political action to change the situation in Pietermaritzburg, and give meaning to our democracy. The MEC for Environment must declare Pietermaritzburg as a priority area per section 18 of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act [2]”.

Wilma Subra, the USA based technical advisor to groundWork who reviewed these samples states that: “The chemicals in the air which are representative of the chemicals detected in the 5 air samples indicate that the ambient air is contaminated in excess of acceptable standards and contains a large number of chemicals which can have a cumulative impact on the health of the community. Measures should be implemented by the operators of the facilities and the regulatory agencies to reduce the toxic chemicals released into the air and implement air monitoring programs that will result in improved ambient air quality and improved public health.”

See Powerpoint presentation

For more information:

Siziwe Khanyile – 033 3425662 / 073 8308173

Bobby Peek – 033 3425662 / 082 46413838

[1] 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 Pietermaritzburg, south Durban, Sasolburg, Secunda and Cape Town.

[2] Air Quality Act