1S – Pollution in SA (WESSA)

Supporting article S: Pollution in South Africa is a huge concern. I have not yet seen it better expressed than in this document  from the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa.


WASSA: People caring for the Earth

Home  Pollution


Some of the major pollution problems in South Africa are emissions from coal-fired power stations on the eastern Gauteng highveld, acid drainage from coal mining, sewage pollution of water from informal settlements, pollution by industry and dumping waste in the sea via pipelines.

Controlling pollution is fundamental to protecting human life-support systems and our quality of life. Clean water, soil and air; maintaining biodiversity and a productive environment are basic to human survival and human aesthetic needs.

General Principles : The Wildlife and Environment Society supports the Prevention Principle which aims to prevent pollution rather than ameliorating the impacts of pollution.
We also support the Integrated Waste Management approach which begins with waste reduction in the product design and manufacture stage and includes reuse and recycling before incineration and landfilling.

We believe that individuals acting separately, or together as communities and nations should, should assume responsibility for their waste and be accountable for its environmentally safe disposal. Waste disposal should not foreclose development opportunities for other individuals or future generations.

We recognise the need for economic development and that producing some waste is part of this process. However, environmental protection is essential to the long-term security of all development – so the negative impacts of waste must be minimized and its value as a resource maximised. If not, economic development will eventually be hamstrung by environmental degradation.

Research and Monitoring : The Society believes that a comprehensive pollution- monitoring network is vital for effective pollution control and that resources for monitoring should be allocated according to the relative pollution risk in an area. Emissions from industrial installations should be monitored in-house with results published annually. Equipment and methods of in-house monitoring should be controlled and monitored by a government inspectorate.

Monitoring ambient (background) pollution levels should be the government’s responsibility and should include both chemical and biological methods so that long term sub-lethal pollution effects can be detected.

Administration and Legislation : The Society supports the creation of an Environmental Protection Agency. All pollution control functions must be rationalised into one body so that scarce, highly-trained expertise can be used efficiently and the shunting of pollution between media (water, land and air) can be effectively controlled..
Pollution control at national and local government level must be effectively integrated for the same reasons. Adequate resources must be allocated to train or employ properly- qualified staff.

All waste management and pollution control laws must be consolidated into one easily accessible statute. The IEM procedure should also be mandatory for the siting of new waste sites.

Pollution legislation must include a judicious mixture of incentives and penalties (carrot and stick) to encourage industry to apply managerial strategies and state of the art technology to control pollution.

Government threats to withdraw pollution permits must be made public. An Environmental Court should be established and there should be enough legal expertise in the pollution inspectorate to ensure that polluters are prosecuted. A programme should aslo be set up to train the legal profession in pollution cases.

Control Options : The Society supports the application of the Best Practicable Environmental Option (BPEO) standard for pollution control. This standard emphasises the need for protecting the environment across land, air and water, at acceptable cost in the long and short term.

Environmental Audits should be mandatory. The results of these audits should be made public in similar fashion to financial results.

The Society does not support the concept of tradeable rights to pollute. Instead, standards for point source emissions should be deduced from ambient environmental pollution standards and economic incentives and penalties should be applied to ensure compliance. Ambient environment pollution standards should be conservative and retain pollution levels within the assimilative capacity of the natural environment.

The control function of the pollution inspectorate and the “trouble-shooting” assistance function should be split to avoid the personal difficulty of officials having to prosecute offenders and help them at the same time.

Public Involvement : The Society believes that the public should have free access to emission data, information on standards and the accountability of pollution control officials.

Locus standii (the legal right to launch court action) for environmental groups in pollution cases is essential to protecting the public interest. A greater effort should also be made to educate the public on pollution issues.

International Agreements : The South African Government should participate in international conventions and agreements on waste management and pollution control.
Import and Export of Wastes : There should be a complete ban on importing any waste.

Suggested National Action:
• Lobby for the rationalization of pollution legislation and administration.
• Educate the public on pollution issues.
Suggested Regional and Branch Action:
• Make the Wildlife Society’s policy known locally.
• Report all pollution to the press and the relevant authority and play a watchdog role to ensure action.

Atmospheric Pollution

Ozone Depletion
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are a group of man-made compounds which have been manufactured and used extensively over the last few decades. They are remarkably unreactive (stable compounds) and are thus ideally suited to their many industrial usages (eg. as refrigerator coolants, aerosol spray-can gases, and in the “blowing-up” of cellular polystyrene).

However, recently it has been demonstrated that these chemicals, because they are so stable under normal conditions in the atmosphere (some are estimated to have average “life expectancies” in excess of 75 years), are slowly finding their way up into the stratosphere. Here the CFC molecules are broken up by ultraviolet (UV) radiation (which is much more intense in the stratosphere).

On disintegration each CFC molecule releases a chlorine atom which in turn sets off a chain reaction of ozone molecule disintegrating. This has the effect of removing thousands of ozone molecules from the stratosphere for every CFC molecule that disintegrates. The reaction happens very rapidly where there are stratospheric ice particles present. This has given rise to the observed “ozone hole” over Antarctica, each spring where large numbers of ice particles and CFC molecules have accumulated during winter as a result of a polar vortex.

The depletion of stratospheric ozone is of particular concern to conservation as living organisms are prone to massively increased rate of harmful mutations when exposed to high dosages of UV radiation. Higher levels of UV radiation have already been measured on the Earth’s surface as a result of the “ozone hole”. So severe are the damaging effects that the emergence of life from the oceans only became possible once ozone had accumulated in the Earth’s atmosphere to the point where UV radiation levels were reduced substantially.

The seriousness of the problem was recognised in September 1987 when many of the world’s top nations signed the “Montreal Protocol” which aims to phase out CFC production over the next few decades. Subsequently, in October 1988, the environment ministers of the 12 European Community Countries made a joint statement that the Montreal Protocol was inadequate and that rapid steps must be taken to phase out all CFCs entirely. The Society supports this statement.

The Society believes that South Africa should ratify the London Amendments to the Montreal Protocol which require a total phase-out of CFCs by the year 2000.

Suggested National Action:
• Lobby for all African countries to ratify and abide by the Montreal Protocol and future international accords aimed at limiting CFC emissions.
• Lobby for government action prohibiting the local importation or manufacture of CFCs or CFC-containing goods.
• Public awareness campaign aimed at creating political pressures for the above governmental action.
• Support industries replacing CFCs with products not harmful to the ozone layer.
• Support consumer pressure groups.
• Give support to research which explores human-induced climate-change so that the cause and effect relationship can be convincingly demonstrated to governments.
• Create public awareness of the gravity of the “greenhouse effect” so that political pressures will grow for governments to institute the far-reaching changes needed to prevent this problem getting worse.
• Support research aimed at predicting and preventing the damaging impacts of climate change on nature reserves.
• Support campaigns to reduce burning fossil fuels.
Suggested Regional and Branch Action:
• Hold lectures on the subject of man-induced climate change.
• Run campaigns to promote more ecologically sound lifestyles amongst your local communities, eg. minimise use of motor vehicles, boycott products containing CFC compounds
• Create public awareness of the dangers posed by CFCs.
• Ask local dealers to replace products containing CFCs with those containing unharmful substitutes.
• Urge members, and the public at large to voluntarily boycott products containing CFCs.

Marine Pollution

Oil Spills on the South African Coastline

Large oil-spills cause disasters with far-reaching financial and environmental implications. Oil spills impact most severely on seabirds, with other impacts being relatively short-lived. The impact on recreation and tourism is significant. Local authorities called upon to mitigate damage are stretched financially and often have to rely on support from volunteers and voluntary donations.

A significant cause of shipping accidents is the inability of aging and unseaworthy vessels to withstand rough sea conditions, for which South African is notorious. Even if they could be identified ahead of disasters, the solution is not to ban such vessels from South African waters, since unseaworthy vessels passing a few kilometres further off-shore remain a high or even higher risk to the coastline.

The Wildlife Society believes therefore that:
• the only appropriate long-term course of action is to address the cause of oil spills. The problem of unseaworthy vessels can only be dealt with internationally, through the International Maritime Organization. Tighter controls must be negotiated
• South Africa could lead the way by not permitting unseaworthy or suspect vessels to leave South African ports.
• the principle should be established that any vessel which threatens to pollute the South African coastline automatically falls under the control of South African authorities.
• the principle that ‘the polluter pays’ must be firmly entrenched in international maritime law.
• South African naval tracking facilities should be extended to monitoring all vessels, with a view to providing local control as well as early warning of real or impending disaster.

Pipelines into the Sea

The Society believes that all waste created on land should be suitably treated and isposed of on land. Discharge of biologically assimilable material should only be allowed where the specific conditions of discharge can be stipulated, and comprehensive environmental impact studies have been done. There discharges should be monitored continuously, with results available to the public.

Economic analyses that show that marine discharges are cheaper than land-based treatment do not include in their calculations the external costs of marine resources lost through pollution.

In principle, pipelines discharging waste into the sea should not be allowed unless it can be proved that this is the best option from an environmental point of view.
The coastal zone is one of our country’s most productive environments serving a multitude of uses from tourism to fishing. Its degradation through injudicious waste disposal is short sighted.

Suggested National Action:
• Lobby for public access to the results of pipeline discharge monitoring.
• Lobby for land-based treatment of effluent.

Noise Pollution

The Society welcomes the promulgation of noise control regulations in terms of sections 25 and 28 of the Environment Conservation Act, 1989.

These regulations include provisions for noise pollution abatement in town planning, the building of new roads, entertainment venues and buildings in which noisy activity is taking place.

Inspectors are empowered to judge noise levels either objectively, using special equipment, as in the case of noisy cooling systems; or subjectively as may be the case with barking dogs. Local authorities are also empowered to request noise impact studies where these may be necessary and make the findings available to the public.

The regulations also set out criteria for vehicle noise abatement and empower the authorities to impound vehicles that do not comply with regulations.
The Society urges all local authorities to adopt the regulations and ensure that the necessary investment is made to enforce them.

Suggested National Action:
• Collect and re-distribute published material regarding noise problems and abatement techniques to Society members.
Suggested Regional and Branch Action
• Liaise with local authorities to support control measures.
• Support local organisations specialising in noise abatement.

With the ever increasing population pressure on our remaining natural areas, protected areas and especially our wilderness areas, structures in close proximity to these areas frequently impact on the visual integrity of the landscape. Structures can either be environment-friendly or seriously mar the scenic beauty of an area. Care should be taken in all development proposals that structures and infrastructure should blend in to the natural surroundings as much as possible. For example in the Drakensberg mountains there are guidelines for people wishing to build their homes in close proximity to the mountains. These guidelines are frequently followed but sometimes they are not. It is our Society’s policy to encourage all developments to seriously consider visual aspects int eh formulation of development plans and that environment-friendly structures must be the norm in the future. It is no longer acceptable to our Society that new developments should negatively impact on the scenic beauty of our landscapes.
K H Cooper
August 1998

Water Pollution

With South Africa’s dwindling water resources and increasing population, water pollution is a serious problem that is costing our country vast sums of money. The cost of water purification for domestic consumption is increasing at an alarming rate and consumers are having to pay at ever increasing rates to deal with this problem.

Water is South Africa’s most precious natural resource and is essential for life. In recent years a great deal has been done in South Africa to highlight the importance of water and to take steps to treat it with great care and respect. There are however still too many examples of serious water pollution in South Africa and a greater effort is required by every single person in South Africa to address this problem.

Our Society believes that every single citizen in South Africa should see themselves as a WATER CUSTODIAN and treat our water with the care and respect it deserves. Every case of water pollution should be investigated, recorded and reported to the nearest office of the Department of Water Affairs who are our national custodians of water. They have dedicated staff to deal with this problem. There are many other ways our Society can help overcome this problem and some of these are dealt with in the WATER RESOURCES chapter of this policy document. Others are dealt with through the Society’s Share-Net resources.
K H Cooper
August 1998