Press Release: November 2017

South Africa is in danger of ‘choking’ in its bid to meet specific clean air goals, but failure to hit early targets may result in greater pragmatism and yet lead to air quality gains, according to Gondwana Environmental Solutions.

The environmental management services company has cautioned against “excessive pessimism” as the 10th anniversary of South Africa’s first declarations of priority areas for air quality management reveals no noticeable improvement in the targeted areas of the Vaal Triangle Airshed Priority Area (VTAPA), the Highveld Priority Area (HPA, including Ekurhuleni, Witbank, Middleburg and Secunda) and Waterberg-Bojanala Priority Area (including Lephalale, Rustenburg and Brits).

Dr Martin van Nierop, co-founder of the Roodeport-based Gondwana Group, noted: “The priority areas were declared from November, 2007, under the Air Quality Act of 2004.

“Air quality readings differ according to the time of year, but monitoring by government and interested parties indicates no significant improvement while an in-depth report on the Highveld by one NGO suggests significant exceedances of permissible levels.

“Therefore, toxic levels of air pollution continue to pose health risks in heavily industrialised areas. Clearly, more needs to be done. However, considerable progress has been made with the preparatory work that is essential if we are serious about clean air. Build on these gains and significant improvement becomes possible.”

He listed five ‘wins’:

  1. A robust legal framework is in place following the overhaul of South Africa’s air pollution legislation and the definition of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQSs)
  2. Representative stakeholder groups – “from polluters to pressure groups” – have been formed in the three priority areas
  3. Comprehensive air quality management plans (AQMPs) have been developed in each priority area
  4. Known industrial polluters are working on offset programmes to improve air quality while investigating a clean-up of their own processes
  5. Weaknesses in official monitoring and control have been identified.

“While we are concerned about pollution, and need to improve urgently, excessive pessimism is unwarranted,” said Dr Van Nierop. “If we’re pragmatic, we can move forward. Setbacks are often accompanied by gains.

“For instance, the National Air Quality Officer has granted big polluters like Eskom and Sasol a postponement of their duty of compliance with the Air Quality Act, complicating the task of achieving clean air. But we now see major enterprises looking to fund offset programmes to cut pollution from non-industrial sources such as domestic cooking and heating, giving immediate health benefits to those most affected

“Stakeholder groups and AQMPs give us the mechanisms to drive progress and maintain pressure on industrial groups. We have to be practical. We can’t close down Eskom, Sasol and other big contributors to the economy, but we can co-opt them as contributors to the work of air quality improvement.”

He believed the 10-year reality check shows that a strategic vision, like that of the Paris Agreement on climate change – signed by the South African government – must be accompanied by pragmatism and practical steps.

“In the present case,” said Dr Van Nierop, “we can see that monitoring and enforcement of air quality regulation by local authorities is inadequate. Municipalities either do not have the inspectors or their personnel lack the training and equipment to carry out inspections. Yet building official capacity is critical to priority area management processes.

“It is therefore vital government make available funding and resources to local authorities so they can ensure compliance with AQMPs. Stakeholder groups can simultaneously keep awareness high and work with all interested parties to drive every possible improvement.

“To achieve clean air, we must clear every obstacle out the way, and we’ve made a start.”

Issued By:     Tale Spin Media & Marketing

Zelda Williams 082 461 0689

Contact:         Gondwana Environmental Solutions

011 472 3112