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Media Release: Eskom risks South Africans’ health by failing to invest in reducing pollution

5 December 2013 at 11:52 am


Earthlife Africa Johannesburg
Centre for Environmental Rights
groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)

Johannesburg, Gauteng, Thursday 5 December 2013 – Eskom is risking the health of South Africans through its ongoing failure to invest in industry-standard pollution prevention equipment for its power stations. Not only is Eskom trying to avoid complying with negotiated and legislated air quality standards, but it now plans to request changes to licence conditions for many of its most polluting power stations so as to emit more pollution. These steps would violate South Africans’ constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to their health.

The company’s recent public narrative about requiring these changes to the law to avoid a “looming energy crisis” must be seen for what it is: a scare tactic to hide its recalcitrance to take timeous industry-accepted measures to comply with air quality standards. The only crisis is the one created by Eskom itself, through failure to invest and plan for unavoidable and overdue changes to the law to protect South Africans’ health.

As confirmed by the Department of Environmental Affairs yesterday, Eskom was an active participant in the extensive negotiations for air quality standards over a five year period. At all times, Eskom knew that, by 2015 (five years after publication of the country’s emission standards in 2010), it would have to comply with these standards, and that by 2020, it would have to comply with even stricter standards.

Despite this, Eskom now seeks to postpone compliance with the emission standards for all but one of its coal-fired power stations. Where Eskom previously announced that it was applying for postponement and exemption applications from air quality standards for 14 coal-fired power stations, including the troubled Medupi; in late November it announced that it now intends to apply for “rolling” postponements from compliance. Ultimately, rolling postponement would have the effect of exemptions.

According to Makoma Lekalakala, Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Programme Officer at Earthlife Africa Johannesburg:

As a regulated institution, Eskom should lead in observing the legislative framework that has been put in place to achieve what is set out in our constitution. Rather than sticking to its same dirty business-as-usual approach, they can invest in alternatives that will not require them to engage in these kinds of processes. There are no hidden externalities such as health costs which the State and taxpayer has to bear, there is no need for expensive pollution reduction mechanisms and of course it is free and clean once installed.”

According to Environmental Health Campaigner at groundWork, Rico Euripidou:

If we consider the current status of air pollution in the Highveld Priority Area – where the majority of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations are located – over the past five years the pollution levels has exceeded the very weak South African standards, which cannot protect health, and with the exemptions being asked for now, Eskom will take us back to dark apartheid days, when industry operated in a lawless state.”

While trying to avoid compliance with air quality standards, Eskom now also seeks the variation of the licences for these stations so as to increase polluting emissions. In the case of the Kriel power station, that variation application has been brought with only eight working days’ notice to affected parties – on the basis that it was an “emergency” application. Eskom fails to mention in its public comments that, earlier this year, its appeal against the licence conditions had already been refused by Mpumalanga authorities.

In the application to vary its licence for Kriel, Eskom seeks to increase its emission limits for particulate matter from 125 µg/m3 to 350 µg/m3. (400 µg/m3 is the increase sought according to its application for exemption from emission standards). This is essentially requesting permission to proceed with non-functional emission control equipment, and to allow uncontrolled emissions. However, in its recently published atmospheric impact report for Kriel, Eskom indicates that its current emissions for particulate matter at Kriel are 103 µg/m3. There should therefore be no reason why it cannot meet the licence limit of 125 µg/m3.

Experts advising Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, Centre for Environmental Rights and groundWork have identified a number of significant inaccuracies and omissions in the modelling used by Eskom in its applications for exemptions and postponements, some of which have been conceded by Eskom. Yet Eskom has refused to do further studies and amend its applications on the basis that there is “insufficient time” to do so.

According to Robyn Hugo, attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights:

The practical and legal difficulty with leaving these attempts to avoid compliance to the last minute is that neither government nor affected parties have the opportunity to consider Eskom’s statements and take expert legal and scientific advice. This means that, as the South African public, we are forced to rely on unverified, incomplete and misleading information provided by Eskom, and therefore forced into decisions with long-term health and environmental impacts without really knowing what the effects are, and whether Eskom in fact has other options. What we do know, however, is that significantly increased polluting emissions are bad for South Africans’ health.”


[1] Earthlife Africa seeks a better life for all people without exploiting other people or degrading their environment. Our aim is to encourage and support individuals, businesses and industries to reduce pollution, minimise waste and protect our natural resources

[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 Air Quality, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International

[3]The Centre for Environmental Rights is a law clinic established in 2009 by 8 non-governmental organisations in the environmental and environmental justice sectors to provide legal expertise and support to communities, community and civil society organisations. Its mission is to advance environmental rights, and to promote civil society participation in environmental governance that is stronger, more streamlined, and better legally and scientifically equipped.


Earthlife Africa Johannesburg

Makoma Lekalakala, Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Programme Officer
Tel (w): +27 (0) 11 339 3662
Mobile: +27 (0) 82 682 9177
Email: [email protected]

Tristen Taylor, Project Coordinator
Tel (w): +27 (0) 11 339 3662
Mobile: +27 (0) 84 250 2434
Email: [email protected]

Centre for Environmental Rights

Melissa Fourie, Executive Director
Tel (w): +27 (0) 21 447 1647
Email: [email protected]

Robyn Hugo, Attorney
Tel (w): +27 (0) 28 312 2746
Mobile: +27 (0) 82 389 4357
Email: [email protected]


Megan Lewis, Media, Information and Publications Officer
Tel (w): +27 (0) 33 342 5662
Mobile: +27 (0) 83 450 5541
Email: [email protected]

Rico Euripidou, Environmental Health Campaigner
Tel (w): +27 (0) 33 342 5662, Mobile: +27 (0) 83 519 3008, Email: [email protected]

Siziwe Khanyile, Climate and Energy Justice Campaigner
Tel (w): +27 (0) 33 342 5662
Mobile: +27 (0) 73 830 8173
Email: [email protected]