COAL mines operated by some of South Africa’s largest companies were polluting areas of Mpumalanga province, an area identified by Greenpeace last year as having the highest levels of air pollution in the world.
The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) said in a report that covered mines owned by Anglo American, Glencore and South32 that pollution of water sources was “egregious”, and that mining firms had failed to live up to their water use licence obligations. The study found “… gross violations and water pollution by the operators”.
South Africa, the most industrialised nation on the African continent, uses coal for more than 90% of its electricity generation, said Bloomberg News.
While environmental groups have raised awareness of premature deaths caused by power plant pollution, the new study found “massive failures” by the Department of Water & Sanitation to effectively regulate water licenses.
“The pollution of South Africa’s precious water resources occurs on a particularly egregious scale in areas with high levels of mining activity,” according to the report. “The mining of coal is particularly harmful, with acid mine drainage from coal mines polluting surface and groundwater with acid, salts and metals,” it said.
Glencore, Anglo American, Exxaro and South32 each told Bloomberg News they would review the findings before responding in more detail. The Department of Water didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Using analysis using data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 5P satellite, Greenpeace said in October that coal mines, transport and Eskom’s 12 coal-fired power stations have been identified as the biggest sources of air pollution in the province. Mpumalanga province had the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide.
Nitrogen dioxide is a compound that contributes to the formation of tiny particulates known as PM2.5 (particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter) and ground-level ozone.