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A new study commissioned by groundWork – Friends of the Earth South Africa and issued today reveals that 51% of deaths due to respiratory illnesses and 54% of deaths due to cardiovascular diseases in the Highveld area in Mpumalanga can be attributed to South African parastatal energy utility Eskom and its outdoor pollution.
Home to 12 of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations, most of the Highveld area was declared a Priority Area (HPA) by the government in 2007 because of its health implications.
An independent researcher and some experts were commissioned to review tens of studies which had already been done in the past, showing the impacts of Eskom. The director of groundWork, Bobby Peek, said to Real World Radio: “What is really critical to understand is that the 37 studies that we reviewed are studies that were done by consultants, by health experts, by air quality experts that actually worked for Eskom as well as for the government. And so what we did was just carefully and methodologically put all this information together in order that the public can see it”. “Eskom knew and knows of the impacts of air pollution”, he added later.
According to Professor Rajen Naidoo, Occupational Health Physician at the University of KwaZulu Natal, quoted in a press release sent out today by groundWork, coal pollution does not only cause respiratory related illnesses. “Other outcomes that we are also concerned about are cardiovascular problems. And also longer-term effects such as cancer. We’re also now becoming more concerned about reproductive effects, the effects that this may have on pregnant women, on the unborn fetus”, the Professor assured.
In their press release, groundWork states that Eskom recently made public its health reports commissioned in 2006, which indicate the 8 power stations operating at the time were cumulatively responsible for 17 deaths and 661 respiratory hospital admissions per year.
However, Eskom awaits decisions from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) on its applications for postponement (in many cases, effectively exemption) to meet minimum emission standards for its coal-fired power stations.
“Eskom is saying ’sorry, we cannot meet the air pollution standards, we want to be exempted’. And we are saying this is unconstitutional and it should not be allowed to happen. Eskom must meet the law as was negotiated and agreed upon in a democratic manner”, said Peek to Real World Radio. “We are saying to our government in South Africa ’do not, under any circumstances, allow Eskom to continue harming people’s health and well being by the pollution they are causing’”, he added.
The director of groundWork underlined that the NGO is also asking the South African government to clean up the air that is so polluted in the Highveld area, and also to deal with the very many illnesses. “We need to recognise that sick children become sick adults”.
Eskom provides the country with 95% of its electricity, of which about
90% comes from coal, with its implied climate change impacts. According to figures presented by Peek, of all the electricity in South Africa, people only use 18 per cent, “and the poor do not have access to it”. At the same time, Eskom sells cheap energy to corporations such as giant Anglo Australian BHP Billiton.
Peek highlighted that “Eskom is the State, and the State is Eskom”, and, at the same time, he considered important to recognise that “the South African State is a corporate State”.
“At the end of the day, people that are living near Eskom in the Highvelds are suffering because of Eskom, and are suffering because the govenment is just not giving them their constitutional rights”, said Peek.
In the opinion of groundWork’s director, people in the Highvelds clearly understand that the air that they breathe is not safe. “They are living in a society where they recognise that the government prioritises the industry over their own health and well being. (...) People are turning to the government and are saying ’you need to help us’”.
Please, find attached groundWork´s media briefing called “Clear the air: Eskom’s coal is a killer”.
Imagen: Megan Lewis/groundWork
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