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  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

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Statement by the Life After Coal campaign in response to the DFFE statement on Kusile

15 March 2023 at 7:36 pm

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Life After Coal campaign notes with concern a statement by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment about Minister Creecy’s decision to allow Eskom an expedited process to apply for an exemption from the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act. This is in relation to Eskom’s proposal to get three units at Kusile Coal Power Station, which malfunctioned in October 2022, back into operation – doing so by bypassing the sulphur dioxide pollution control.

The proposed bypass of Kusile’s fluegas desuphurisation pollution control would have major health impacts for the people living in the airshed of the power station. At this stage, it is not clear whether Eskom has or is proposing to conduct a health impact study of its proposed plan.

SO2 is a priority pollutant under the Air Quality Act – an act for which community people living with the effects of industrial pollution fought hard between 1994 and 2004. SO2 causes various kinds of ill health, including respiratory health impacts, chronic wheeze, decline in lung function, upper respiratory irritation and bronchoconstriction, and chronic exposure causing premature death.

If Kusile operates at its pre-stack collapse production rates of about 33% (which is the output Kusile was producing prior to the stack malfunction) for 13 months as proposed, it is projected that 195 people will die from the SO2 pollution. If it operates at 100% for 13 months, 492 people are projected to die. If the bypass stack runs for 3 years, between 540 and 1362 people are projected to die from the SO2 pollution, depending on the production rate at Kusile.

This is over and above the existing public health disaster on the Mpumalanga Highveld where particulate matter from coal-fired power already kills more than 2200 people per year.

The Life After Coal campaign wrote to Minister Creecy on 9 March 2023 to raise our concerns about media reports of Eskom’s plans to bypass the pollution control at Kusile. This included an initial assessment of the potential health impacts of such a proposed decision, based on a projection by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

The Life After Coal campaign also questions whether a decision to allow Eskom to dump sulphur dioxide from unabated polluting emissions into the atmosphere would meet the requirements of the Constitution, which places an obligation on the state to give immediate effect to the right to an environment that is not harmful to health and wellbeing – as also confirmed by the High Court in the 2022 Deadly Air court judgment.

The DFFE statement notes that the decision to allow expedited timeframes is subject to a condition that “Eskom must undertake measures to mitigate against the exposure of its employees and surrounding communities to harm which, at a minimum, must include independent health screenings and referral to appropriate public health facilities for treatment where necessary”. Intentionally making people sick and then referring them to the doctor for treatment would be a shocking violation of human rights, especially considering the inadequate public healthcare system.

With regard to the expedited application process that has now been approved for Eskom, it is important to note that, according to Eskom, the fluegas desulphurisation units malfunctioned as long ago as October 2022. We also note that the principles of administrative justice would require proper consultation with the people that would be affected by this decision – in particular the people living in the airshed of the Kusile power station. 14 days is not an adequate period to conduct proper consultation as required by law.

END

Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle is a joint campaign by Earthlife Africa, groundWork, and the Centre for Environmental Rights. We aim to: discourage the development of new coal-fired power stations and mines; reduce emissions from existing coal infrastructure and encourage a coal phase-out; and enable a just transition to sustainable energy systems for the people.

Letter sent to Minister Creecy on 9 March 2023, including CREA report

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