Breathing is the most basic process of life. “Slow Poison: Air pollution, public and failing governance”, is a new report published by environmental justice organization, groundWork, Centre for Environmental Rights and community partners on the fatal state of air quality in South Africa.
Slow Poison outlines the history of regulations governing air pollution – a story of collusion between the state and industry – and of people’s struggles to secure an air quality regime that protects people’s health, as outlined in section 24 of the Constitution.
Despite being declared the first air priority area in the 2007, the Vaal Triangle has yet to meet any of the requirements set out in the area’s Air Quality Management Plan and exceedances in particulate matter of 2.5 and 10 micro-millimeters for 25 days and over have been numerous.
Witbank is known today to have some of the dirtiest air in the world, even though the Highveld was declared an air priority area in 2008. It shows similar exceedances that are, like the Vaal, far above South Africa’s own prescribed air pollution standards and even higher than the World Health Organization’s standards.
While not formally declared an Air Priority Area by the Department of Environmental Affairs, the South Durban Basin has grown into a major industrial hub with two petrochemical refineries in amongst other polluting industries. With the disregard for the Multi-Point Plan (2000) in 2011 by The Metropolitan’s dismantling of the pollution control and risk management unit, today air pollution is still not taken seriously. eThekwini continues to ignore the recommendations of the South Durban Health Study published in 2006, which found that even modest increases in air pollution levels affect those already vulnerable to lung diseases and increases the number of people that will become vulnerable.
The report details government’s failure to enforce the law or to maintain proper air quality monitoring and information systems while industry disdains compliance with the law. Critically, it concludes that government is once more allowing the air quality regime to collapse.