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Victory: Environment Minister withdraws illegally-doubled SO2 pollution standards

23 May 2019 at 8:55 am

Kendal Power Station, July 2018 (Photo: groundWork)
Kendal Power Station, July 2018 (Photo: groundWork)

Following groundWork’s litigation instituted last month to set aside government’s unlawful plan to double the amount of the harmful pollutant sulphur dioxide (SO2) polluters are allowed to emit, the Environmental Affairs Minister yesterday withdrew this provision.

The doubling had been published for implementation on 31 October 2018 without inviting public comment on it as the Air Quality Act requires – which made it unlawful.

In an attempt to remedy this failure, the Minister has now published a second notice, in which she invites 30 days’ public comment on the same proposed amendment to the minimum emission standards which would allow all coal-fired boilers to emit double their previously-allowed SO2 pollution from 1 April 2020.

Eskom and Sasol are South Africa’s biggest emitters of SO2.

SO2 is a notorious pollutant that causes significant harm to human health and the environment. It can affect the respiratory system and the functions of the lungs, and causes irritation of the eyes. Inflammation of the respiratory tract causes coughing, mucus secretion, aggravation of asthma and chronic bronchitis, and makes people more prone to infections of the respiratory tract.  Studies have linked SO2 to low birth weight in infants and an increased risk for gestational diabetes mellitus, stillbirths, and pre-term births. Hospital admissions for cardiac disease and mortality increase on days with higher SO2 levels.  When SO2 combines with water, it forms sulphuric acid, which is the main component of acid rain.

“Whilst we are relieved that the Minister has finally withdrawn the illegal provision to double SO2 pollution, groundWork and other community organisations will not only continue to oppose this proposed doubling, but will fight all efforts to weaken our already poor pollution standards”, says Bobby Peek, groundWork’s director. “Industries continue to place profit over people; disregarding and minimising the impacts their pollution has on communities’ health and wellbeing.”

Head of the Centre for Environmental Rights Pollution and Climate Change Programme, Robyn Hugo, points out, “South African law should be following the global trend of reducing pollution from industrial facilities as a matter of urgency. Instead, we are demonstrating less commitment to clean air and human health than other developing countries.”

Those concerned about their health and their health of their families are urged to comment on the draft notice by 21 June 2019:

By post to: The Director -General: Department of Environmental Affairs

Attention: Mr Olebogeng Matshediso

Environment House (Reception), 473 Steve Biko Road, Arcadia, Pretoria

By email: [email protected]


groundWork, Earthlife Africa and the CER form part of the Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle campaign. This is a joint campaign which aims to: discourage the development of new coal-fired power stations and mines; reduce emissions from existing coal infrastructure and encourage a coal phase-out; and enable a just transition to sustainable energy systems for the people.


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Section 24of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

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