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Does SA have a R30 billion air pollution problem?

Air pollution Air pollution from coal-fired power stations kills more than 2 200 South Africans every year and costs the country more than R30 billion annually, through hospital admissions and lost working days.

These are some of the shocking findings to emerge from a report by UK-based air quality and health expert Dr Mike Holland who visited South Africa last week.

Dr Holland presented his report, entitled Health impacts of coal fired power plants in South Africa, to the Department of Environmental Affairs on 6 September and to members of the Environmental Affairs and Health Portfolio Committees on Friday, 8 September 2017.

In 2016, environmental justice organisation groundWork commissioned Dr Holland to assess the health impacts and associated economic costs of current emissions of air pollutants from coal-fired power stations in South Africa.

The report estimates that numerous impacts such as the 2 239 deaths per year, 2 379 hospital admissions per year and the 996 628 lost working days per year are attributable to air pollution from the burning of coal in South Africa. According to the report the total costs associated with these impacts exceed USD2 billion per year.

The numbers in the report exclude the significant impacts from air pollution from mining (such as coal dust), transport of coal, and contamination of water.

The most lethal power stations revealed

Dr Holland’s report also estimates the health impacts of individual Eskom power stations based on their emissions.

His report finds that the most lethal Eskom power stations are:

  1. Medupi: 364 deaths (also with 453 cases of chronic bronchitis, 1552 cases of bronchitis in children ages 6-19, 15 412 asthma symptom days in children, all at a cost of more than $386 million per year)
  2. Matimba: 262 deaths per year
  3. Kendal: 210 deaths per year
  4. Lethabo: 204 deaths per year
  5. Matla and Tutuka: 192 deaths per year each

Dr Holland told decision-makers this week that these impacts are material, and urged that they be taken into account in future energy policy in South Africa.

Decommission dirty coal power stations

Earlier this year, CER, groundWork and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (which make up of the Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle campaign), made submissions on the draft base case for the new Integrated Resource Plan, arguing that health costs should have been considered in the scenario planning by the Department of Energy.

Commenting on the report Bobby Peek, director of groundWork said: “SA is at a unique stage in energy production. We need to consider how we use our current electricity surplus to ensure a just transition away from coal power that kills people, and ensuring that people who currently do not have access to energy, gain access to clean, healthy energy.

“We also need to start decommissioning dirty coal power stations, and support the creation of new electricity industry which is cleaner, healthier, more energy efficient and more labour intensive.  Let’s not lose this unique opportunity to create a healthier energy for a healthier people, for a healthier South Africa.”

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