Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, 04 February 2014 – In October last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that outdoor air pollution causes cancer, a critical finding for South Africa on World Cancer Day [1] today considering we still hold a notorious air pollution track record.

What the findings of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) means for all South Africans, but in particular those living in heavily polluted areas such as south Durban, the Highveld and the Vaal, is that Eskom’s application to be exempt from pollution standards and continued reliance on coal will continue to cause an increase in lung cancer, bladder cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems in South African people.

According to the WHO, the most recent data shows that 223 000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide resulted from air pollution [2]. Dr. Dana Loomis, Deputy Head of the Monographs Section of the IARC explains:

“Our task was to evaluate the air everyone breathes rather than focus on specific air pollutants. The results from the reviewed studies point in the same direction: the risk of developing lung cancer is significantly increased in people exposed to air pollution.” [2]

Including the Kusile coal-fired power station, the Mpumalanga Province has 13 power stations that burn millions of tonnes of coal each year to produce electricity. While for some this means they can on flick a switch to light up a room, to those living next to these power stations and the mines that supply them the air is so heavily polluted with carcinogenic substances that they stand a good chance of developing cancer.

For Thomas Mnguni of the Greater Middleburg Residents Association, he and his children live with this risk daily:

“Eskom is directly polluting us, but they are in denial about how the emissions from their coal-fired power stations affect our health. In Middleburg, where my children and I live, the air is some of worst in the country if not in the world.”

According to a study conducted by the University of Pretoria [3], the estimated external public health cost resulting from Kusile – found in the Mpumalanga Province – is between R182 million and R213 million. This is supported by research conducted for the Highveld Priority Area’s air quality management plan, which estimates that power generation activities are the main driver of hospital admissions in Mpumalanga, with a 51% contribution.

Environmental Health Campaigner at groundWork [4], Rico Euripidou states:

“Eskom is seeking to postpone compliance with the emission standards for all but one of its coal-fired power stations because of water resources, financial and electricity supply capacity constraints. In some instances this will result in a three to fourfold increase in pollution above the emission limits and cause our air quality standards to be exceeded. This will in turn result in excess cancers as per the WHO findings. Eskom and government must quantify the health costs of its pollution before any decision is taken in this regard. If Eskom is exempt from pollution standards then every large polluting industry will follow suit, including SASOL and NATREF who have already indicated they will do so.”

[1] For more information on World Cancer Day, visit
[2] Information taken from
[3] For more information on this study, click here.
[4] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa, and increasingly Southern Africa, on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Coal, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International.

Megan Lewis
groundWork: Media, Information and Publications Officer
Tel (w): +27 (0) 33 342 5662
Mobile: +27 (0) 83 450 5541

Rico Euripidou
groundWork: Environmental Health Campaigner
Tel (w): +27 (0) 33 342 5662
Mobile: +27 (0) 83 519 3008

groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)