The Mpumalanga highveld has once again been flagged as a pollution hot spot.
This time it was the little mining town of Kriel – now the Earth’s second worst area for sulphur dioxide (SO2) pollution.
The Greenpeace study that highlighted the crisis laid the blame for the high SO2 levels at the door of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations.
It’s not the first time. In October last year, Mpumalanga topped world nitrogen dioxide air pollution charts.
Even though these pollutants cause serious health issues such as respiratory problems, power utility Eskom applied to be exempt from air quality laws because it would cost it too much (about R187 billion) to clean up its act.
It was given a five-year reprieve on its emission levels in 2015.
Instead of clamping down, the government is trying to change emissions standards – to allow the doubling of SO2 emissions by big coal-burners from April 1 2020.
With no state support, saving the lives of thousands fell to NGOs, who are suing the minister of environmental affairs (at the time it was Nomvula Mokonyane) for trying to double the emissions allocation without public comment.
Have we learnt nothing from the silicosis case? Big business cannot be allowed to get away with literal murder.
Coal is most certainly not the only source of power.
We should be looking above ground for our electricity sources – the sun, wind and water – not below the ground, where we will bury the dead.
When she was redeployed to head the environment department earlier this year, Barbara Creecy was quoted as saying that she had inherited a department that was “in good shape”.
Let’s hope she was misquoted, and she meant to say she would “whip it into shape”.