Air pollution from coal power stations deadly

Air pollution from coal-fired power stations kills more than 2200 South Africans every year and causes thousands of cases of bronchitis and asthma in adults and children each year, costing the country more than R30-billion a year, from the healthcare system and lost working days. These are some of the findings from a presentation by UK-based air quality and health expert Dr. Mike Holland who visited South Africa recently.

Holland presented his report to the Department of Environmental Affairs on 6 September 2017, and to members of the Environmental Affairs and Health Portfolio Committees on 8 September 2017.

In 2016, environmental justice organisation groundWork commissioned Holland to assess the health impacts and associated economic costs of current emissions of air pollutants from coal-fired power stations in South Africa. His findings are contained in a report entitled Health impacts of coal fired power plants in South Africa. In essence, the report estimates that the following impacts are attributable to air pollution from the burning of coal in South Africa:

  • 2239 deaths per year: 157 from lung cancer,  1110 from ischaemic heart disease, 73 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 719 from strokes, and 180 from lower respiratory infection
  • 2781 cases of chronic bronchitis per year in adults
  • 9533 cases of bronchitis per year in children aged six to twelve
  • 2379 hospital admissions per year
  • 3 972 902 days of restricted activity per year
  • 94 680 days of asthma symptoms per year in children aged five to 19
  • 996 628 lost working days per year

These numbers exclude the significant impacts from air pollution from coal dust, transport of coal, and water contamination. The report estimates the health impacts of individual Eskom power stations based on their emissions. His report finds that the most lethal Eskom power stations are Medupi (364 deaths a year), Matimba (262 deathsa year), Kendal (210 deaths a year), Lethabo (204 deaths a year), and Matla and Tutuka (192 deaths a year each).

Holland told decision-makers that these impacts are material, and urged that they are taken into account in future energy policy in South Africa. Earlier this year, CER, groundWork and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (which make up of the Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle campaign), made submissions on the draft base case for the new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), arguing that health costs should have been considered in the scenario planning by the Department of Energy. The Life After Coal Campaign, together with Greenpeace Africa, also criticised the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for not adequately considering these and other costs in their alternative IRP published in March 2017.

Contact Annette Gibbs, Centre for Environmental Rights, Tel 021 447-1647, agibbs@cer.org.za

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