Government lowers air pollution standards amid COVID-19 pandemic

South Africa and the rest of the world is at war with the COVID-19 pandemic — it’s no secret. What’s worse is that while citizens uphold a three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, new air pollution standards have been gazetted.

Before you celebrate, it’s not exactly the air pollution standards we want. In fact, it’s way worse. 

According to the Centre for Environmental Rights, the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy has gazetted sulphur dioxide (S02) air pollution standards (minimum emission standards or MES) that are twice as weak as the previous standards — not great while battling a global pandemic like COVID-19.

Instead of Eskom, Sasol, and other facilities with coal boilers, having to meet the original standard, they will now only be required to comply with MES doubly as weak. 

“The new limit will apply either by 1 April or by the delayed dates that these companies have already been given by the National Air Quality Officer,” said the Centre for Environmental Rights in a statement. 

Weak air pollution standards could amount to more than 3 000 deaths 

Research presented by the Life After Coal Campaign to the minister and the department has shown that 3 300 premature deaths would be caused by doubling the air pollution standard just for Eskom’s coal-fired power stations. 

According to the research, it would increase the risk of respiratory infections, strokes, and diabetes — things we don’t need amid a global pandemic like COVID-19. 

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Author: Andrea Chothia

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