Durban, KwaZulu Natal, 09 October 2014 – “As a global trend, the energy generating sector dwarfs the costs of indoor air pollution.” Yesterday, Professor Peter Orris of the University of Illinois, closed this year’s Air Quality Lekgotla [1] held by the Department of Environmental Affairs, with this statement, putting Eskom and industries like Sasol under the spotlight.

He continued to state that “While it’s important not to minimise the impact on people’s health from domestic burning, both need to be addressed but with the understanding that ambient (outdoor) air quality has a much larger impact.”
While Eskom has applied to the DEA for rolling postponements – effectively exemptions – for 14 of its coal-fired power plants, Sasol has recently taken this one step further by taking the department to court over legislation which seeks to curb industry emissions to save people’s lives from air pollution related illnesses.

Pressure from civil society groups has pushed the DEA to begin looking into doing a cost-benefit analysis for air pollution in South Africa. The 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study (2010) ranked outdoor air pollution among the top 10 risks worldwide. Amy Lamson from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) presented the cost-benefit analysis methodology used in the US, which indicated that reducing particulate matter of 2.5 micron millimetres (small particles that travel deep into the lungs when inhaled) has the highest impact in terms of benefits to people’s health.

The findings of the US EPA cost-benefit analysis showed that the cost of implementing public health regulations for air quality was smaller than what was predicted. Critically, Lamson said, “there is value to stopping even one premature death”.

Seemingly, we can predict that the DEA’s study would find the same, therefore further legitimising air quality legislation already in place and pushing major polluters in South Africa to retrofit their operations with pollution abatement technologies.

According to research gathered by Orris, 25% of the world’s energy is from coal and 1200 more coal-fired power plants are being proposed globally. He noted that the “barriers to change are primarily social and political, not technological or economic” and as a result people are becoming ill and dying because governments are not willing to change energy systems.

groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)
South Durban Community Environmental Alliance


[1] For more information on the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Air Quality Lekgotla
[2] 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
[3] The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) is an alliance of 16 organizations concerned with environmental justice and human rights, particularly relating to industrial pollution in south Durban, an area which is home to more than 285 000 people living in settled communities


Megan Lewis
Media and Communications Officer
Mobile: +27 (0) 83 450 5541

Rico Euripidou
Environmental Health Campaigner
Mobile: +27 (0) 83 519 3008

South Durban Community Environmental Alliance:
Desmond D’sa
Mobile: +27 (0) 83 982 6939

Noluthando Mbeje
Communications and Project Officer
Mobile: +27 (0) 78 234 6206