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New study highlights the deadly reality of Eskom's coal for South Africans

Eskom's coal

New study shows the deadly reality of Eskom’s coal-fired power plants. Creative Commons: Mario Goebbels, 2014

As South African utility Eskom awaits a decision on whether the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs will postpone its responsibility to meet minimum emission standards, new research is highlighting the deadly reality of the company’s coal-fired power stations.

Commissioned by NGO groundwork, the study reveals the true health and well-being impacts of dirty coal to the people in South Africa’s Highveld – who carry the burden of Eskom’s pollution.

Home to 12 of the company’s coal power stations, in 2007 the Highveld was confirmed as a High Priority Area, because of high levels of air pollution.

The new study argues that 51% of the deaths that occur from respiratory illness, and 54% of deaths from cardiovascular disease are directly a result from pollution in the air.

According to groundWorks, Eskom is the main contributor to ambient air pollution in the Highveld area, and therefore the main driver of the related illnesses.

Bobby Peak, Director of groundWork said:

It’s a common reality that the young suffer, and the aged suffer. But the young of today are the adults of tomorrow, and we’re creating a sick population in Mpumalanga, because the children that are sick today because of air pollution from Eskom… they don’t grow to the potential they have, and as a results, we can say that the entire population is vulnerable, because sick children become sick adults.

South Africa’s air quality standards are weaker than the World Health Organisation’s guidelines, and yet they are exceeded on a regular basis, warn groundWorks.

The group criticised the government’s inability to monitor and regulate the industry’s emissions, particularly in the Highveld, recognised as a pollution hotpot over seven years ago.

Last month, a report commissioned by Eskom in 2006 was published arguing that eight of the company’s power plants contributed to the death of 17 to 20 people annually, as well as 661 respiratory hospital admissions.

While Eskom dispute the report – saying it is “based on incorrect assumptions” and “significantly exaggerated” – groundWork and Earthlife Africa are calling on the Department of Environmental Affairs to take note and reject the calls for a postponement on fulfilling emissions standards.

The ‘rolling postponements’ applied for by Eskom, would amount to an exemption for such standards for 14 of its coal-fired power stations.

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