Aerial ‘Toxic Tour’ of Mpumalanga’s coal-fired power stations with GP Africa

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The city of eMahleni has been identified as having the dirtiest air quality in the world. The European Space Agency conducted research using satellite imagery.

Greenpeace released satellite data from June to August this year which reveals the world’s largest Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) air pollution.

Mpumalanga, one of South Africa’s industrial heartlands, is said to have the dirtiest air in the world which is harmful to residents and the atmosphere.

It said that the cluster of Eskom’s 12 coal firing stations within a 25km radius – alongside Eskom failing to comply with Minimum Emission Standards (MES), ranked the area as the dirtiest cluster of coal-fired power stations globally.

The region is also heavily mined and home to Sasol’s massive refinery in Secunda.

Watch below for the ‘Toxic Tour’ of Mpumalanga’s coal-fired power stations with Greenpeace Africa:

Melita Steele, Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Africa explains that the easterly winds blew the pollution to Gauteng and that this combination regularly exposes Gauteng residents to extreme and dangerous levels of NO2.

“Air pollution affects us all and the coal problem in Mpumalanga means that winds are being blown across into Pretoria and Johannesburg, affecting the 8 million people living there and we can’t continue to rely on coal going forward because people’s lives are on the line.”

It’s a well-known fact that South Africa is a legacy in terms of coal and has generated employment. Mobilisation Officer for Greenpeace Africa, August Maluka, says that however employment has been generated by the coal industry, it’s important that people need to be kept healthy. Maluka says that renewable energy generates healthier jobs.

“The most important thing is to recognise that when it comes to alternatives like renewable energy that all the stakeholders, trade unions like government, they need to embrace the fact that there is a just transition that is there in terms of creating safer and healthier jobs.“


Parliament’s portfolio committee on Environmental Affairs invited Greenpeace to present the report as part of an inquiry into air pollution and MES alongside representatives from the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The report was widely criticised.

CSIR said there was no question that Mpumalanga was a hotspot for NO2 emissions… …but there was no evidence that it was the worst in the world.

An expert from the Department of Environmental Affairs agreed that people on the ground were not exposed to dangerous levels of NO2 and described the report as propaganda.

Greenpeace Africa said that it was not surprised that the Department of Environmental Affairs defended “mega-polluters” on air pollution.

Nhlanhla Sibisi, Climate and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Africa says that it is the quality of life that they are trying to protect in South Africa.

“The impact from the air quality report clearly states where the biggest problems are and we do have a challenge in South Africa in terms of the quality of air that we have. We’re saying that it’s something that needs to be taken seriously because it’s evidence based, it’s data that has been compiled and it’s data that we believe from a country’s perspective we need to take heed of and it’s important that we do something about it, action needs to be taken now.

Steele: “The importance of people standing together on issues around air pollution and coal and renewable energy cannot be underestimated. South Africa has some of the best renewable resources in the world but unless we really take acting to invest in renewable energy seriously we’re going to be stuck with things like toxic air pollution from coal for the foreseeable future.”

While South Africa’s indigenous energy resource is dominated by coal-fired power stations, pollution will always remain a factor.