Impacts and health effects of air pollution by Eskom, Sasol Synfuels and Natref

June 10th, 2019, Published in Articles: Energize, Podcasts: Energize

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A new study report on the air quality and health effects of air pollution by Eskom, Sasol Synfuels and Natref in and around South Africa’s Highveld Priority Area (HPA) provides shocking evidence of the harmful effects caused by these organisations to the environment and to human health.

The study report by Dr Gray is included as expert evidence in court papers served on Friday 7 June 2019 on the President of South Africa, the Minister of Environmental Affairs and the National Air Quality Officer, in a High Court action aimed at getting the minister to do her job.

A summary of the full study by Dr H. Andrew Gray, of Gray Sky Solutions, USA, is given below.

Download the full study report by Dr Gray and his credentials here

Glossary

  • PM: Air pollution in the form of Particulate Matter, or minute particles, such as dust, smoke or ash.
  • PM2.5: Air pollution in the form of Particulate Matter up to 2,5 µm (microns) in diameter.
  • PM5: Air pollution in the form of Particulate Matter up to 5 µm (microns) in diameter.
  • PM10: Air pollution in the form of Particulate Matter of up to 10 µm (microns) in diameter.
  • HPA: Highveld Priority Area, a 31 000 km2 area cutting across Gauteng and Mpumalanga, identified as a “priority area” in terms of Air Quality Act 39 of 2004, due to its poor air quality.
  • MES: A list of activities which result in harmful atmospheric emissions, and their associated national Minimum Emission Standards, developed in terms of the Air Quality Act 39 of 2004.
  • WHO: World Health Organisation, an agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health.
  • SO2: Sulphur dioxide, a dangerous gas emitted through burning of coal and certain metallurgical and petrochemical processes.
  • NO2: Nitrogen dioxide, a dangerous gas emitted through burning of coal and certain metallurgical and petrochemical processes.
  • NAAQS: National Ambient Air Quality Standards of South Africa established for national environmental management in terms of the Air Quality Act 39 of 2004.

Summary

Dr. Gray was commissioned by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) to conduct an air pollution dispersion model and health risk assessment for 14 industrial facilities (12 Eskom coal-fired power stations, the Sasol Synfuels chemical facility and the Natref refinery), located in and around the Mpumalanga Highveld Priority Area (HPA) of South Africa.

The Highveld Priority Area, a 31 000 km2 area cutting across Gauteng and Mpumalanga,
identified as a “priority area” in terms of Air Quality Act 39 of 2004, due to its poor air quality.

Important results from the modelling and health risk assessment include:

  • Ambient PM5 pollution from the 14 facilities caused between 305 and 650 early deaths in the area in 2016. The three worst offenders were Lethabo power station (57 to 122 early deaths), Kendal power station (46 to 99 early deaths), and Kriel power station (34 to 76 early deaths). If the 14 facilities were required to comply with the minimum emissions standards that will go into effect in 2020 (2020 MES), this would reduce early deaths by 60%, preventing between 182 and 388 early deaths in and around the HPA every year.
  • Cumulative emissions from the 14 facilities created acute exposures in 2016 that exceeded the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for daily or hourly averages for all pollutants. The highest 24-hour average exposure of PM5 was 45 µg/m3, nearly twice the WHO guideline of 25 µg/m3. These conditions occurred around Kendal, Kriel, and Duvha power stations. The highest 24-hour average exposure of SO2 was 241,4 µg/m3, over 1200% of the World Health Organisation standard of 20 µg/m3. The highest NO2 one-hour average was 2020 µg/m3, over 1000% of the one-hour average standard of 200 µg/m3. Implementing the 2020 MES would completely eliminate the WHO guideline exceedances for 24-hour average PM10 and 24-hour average PM2.5, and would significantly reduce the number of exceedances for 24-hour average SO2 and one-hour average NO2 throughout the modelled area.
  • All of the 120 sensitive sites (primarily schools and hospitals) analysed in the model exceeded the World Health Organization’s 24-hour average SO2 guideline (20 µg/m3) in 2016 due to emissions from the 14 facilities. The modelled average peak 24-hour SO2 concentration across all 120 sensitive sites was 66,4 µg/m3 in 2016, with a maximum of 178 µg/m3 at Duvha Primary School. Under the 2020 MES, the average concentration at the sensitive sites would be reduced to 13,6 “SP16” 2932 µg/m3. Implementing the 2020 MES at the facilities would bring SO2 exposures at 93% of the sensitive sites (all but nine) to within the WHO guideline.
  • Unhealthy, acute exposures to NO2 occurred at 28 of the 120 sensitive sites in 2016, exceeding the WHO one-hour NO2 guideline concentration of 200 µg/m3. The worst acute exposure was at Camden Combined School, at 1079 µg/m3. Under the 2020 MES, there would still be 14 sites in which the 200 µg/m3 would be exceeded (led by Camden Combined School (588 µg/m3). The average peak one-hour average NO2 concentration across all 120 sites was 191 µg/m3 in 2016. Under the 2020 MES, the average of all 120 sites would be reduced to 115 µg/m3.
  • The 14 facilities are responsible for the lion’s share of air pollution allowed by national air quality limits. In 2016, emissions from the 14 facilities accounted for:
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    – 92% of the daily ambient SO2 limit
    – 85% of the hourly ambient SO2 limit
    – 82% of the hourly ambient NO2 limit
    – 68% of the daily ambient PM5 limit
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    These levels of contribution indicate that ambient air quality standards cannot be achieved without reducing pollution from these sources. Given the hundreds of other sources of air pollution in and around the HPA, particularly PM and NO2, these 14 facilities contribute alarmingly high – and relatively easily reducible – percentages of national limits. If these sources were to comply with the 2020 MES, their contribution to ambient air pollution would substantially decrease, accounting for:
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    – 20% of the daily ambient SO2 limit (79% reduction from 2016)
    – 21% of the hourly ambient SO2 limit (75% reduction from 2016)
    – 53% of the hourly ambient NO2 limit (35% reduction from 2016)
    – 28% of the daily ambient PM5 limit (59% reduction from 2016)
  • Major reductions of SO2 emissions from the 14 sources are necessary to reduce the high levels of secondary PM5 (from sulfate particles) contributing to PM2.5 NAAQS exceedances in and around the HPA. Compliance with the 2020 MES would result in SO2 emissions from the facilities being reduced by 78% relative to 2016 emissions. NO2 emissions from the facilities would be reduced by 43%. PM10 emissions from the facilities would be reduced by 51%.
  • The 14 modelled sources are responsible for substantial PM5 exposures across at least 30% of the entire modelled area. If the sources complied with the 2020 MES, the area exposed to relatively high concentrations of PM2.5 would be completely eliminated, resulting in healthier air for the large populations in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The above is a summary of the full study by Dr. H. Andrew Gray, of Gray Sky Solutions, USA.

Download the full study report by Dr. Gray and his credentials here

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