Government investigating headache-inducing air pollution in Gauteng

 ·18 Feb 2021

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries will investigate concerns of pollution in and around Gauteng and Mpumalanga after widespread complaints of a sulphuric smell which has caused headaches and nausea.

A spokesperson said that the department will visit the Sasol plant in Secunda, Mpumalanga as a possible source of investigation for the pollution.

“The Sasol Secunda Operations are believed to be the possible source of sulphur stench experienced in parts of Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces since the weekend. The stench is likely a combination of elevated levels of sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide.

“While there are many sources in the area that could be contributing to these elevated levels, the District Municipality’s Air Quality Officer has been informed that the Sasol Secunda operation is experiencing stressed conditions as the facility started ramping up operations.”

The department said that air monitoring solutions have detected elevated sulphur dioxide levels in the environment.

“The pollutant causes an odour nuisance even at concentrations far below those that cause health hazards. People who are sensitive to unpleasant odours are likely to experience headaches and nausea.

“As part of the investigations, authorities are in the processes of requesting the Operations facility to account in terms of Section30 of National Environmental Air Quality Management Act and to put mitigation measures in place, should they be found to be the source of the smell.”

In response, Sasol said that its Secunda operations in Mpumalanga have been stable with no operational incidents that could have resulted in an increase in sulphur emissions.

“High resolution analysers (on point sources), which monitor our emissions, report levels below the limits prescribed by our atmospheric emissions licenses under which we operate.

“Sasol is committed to improving air quality in the areas within which we operate and has initiated an investigation to assist in identifying the area of origin of the sulphur odour experienced in the Highveld region.”

The group said it is also gathering and assessing data on atmospheric conditions in the region over the last few days.

“An initial review of data from the South African Weather Service’s ambient air quality monitoring stations, as well as those managed by Sasol, indicate no exceedance of sulphur ambient air quality standard limits as set by government.

“Given that we operate with due care and regard to the impact we may have on surrounding communities and the environment, we have put structures in place to engage with the community and encourage the public to use these forums to discuss all environmental issues, including air quality. ”

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