Legal Framework, Tools & Systems to Monitor Air Pollution: Department of Environmental Affairs briefing

Water and Sanitation

10 June 2013
Chairperson: Mr J De Lange (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Environmental Affairs briefed the Committee on the Air Quality Act (39) of 2004. The Air Quality Act presented a distinct shift from exclusively source-based air pollution control to holistic and integrated effects-based air quality management. It addressed the adverse impact of air pollution on the ambient environment, pollutant levels in ambient air and emission standards. The 2007 National Framework under the Air Quality Act made provisions for legislative and policy context, roles and responsibilities for air quality management, approach to air quality governance and strategy development. The following tools were identified to implement the National Framework: air quality information management, the South African air quality information system, air quality publications and reporting and the South African Weather Service. In the 2012 draft National Framework, the Minister established national standards for municipalities and provinces to monitor ambient air quality, among other requirements, in order to report compliance with ambient air quality standards.

National ambient air quality standards were defined as air quality that was not harmful to health and well-being. The National Framework established provincial and local ambient air quality standards with the provision that such standards “may not alter any such national standards for the province or municipality, except by stricter standards”.

Provinces, national departments and municipalities were required to establish and implement air quality management plans. The air quality management plans were introduced to identify all air pollution sources, develop a baseline report of the status quo, set air quality management objectives or the “desired state”, identify resources required to get to the “desired state” and implement, monitor and report against the air quality management plan.

Areas where ambient standards have been exceeded or the Minister or MEC reasonably believe have been exceeded, are declared priority areas. To date, three priority areas had been declared and action had been taken to address the problems. These areas were: Vaal Triangle Airshed Priority Area, Highveld Priority Area and Waterberg-Bojanala Priority Area. The main air pollution sources in the priority areas have been identified as industrial emissions (various industrial complexes), domestic burning of dirty fuels in highly populated areas, mining operations and vehicle emissions.

The Minister or MEC have been authorised to publish a list of activities which have caused atmospheric emissions and to also define associated minimum emission standards for those activities. As a result of being listed, atmospheric emission licenses to operate are required.  The Minister or MEC had been given the authority to declare any substance contributing to air pollution a priority pollutant. Plans have been put in place to declare greenhouse gases priority pollutants, to acquire mitigation plans according to international commitments and to amend the Air Quality Act to enable monitoring, evaluation and reporting against those mitigation plans. Draft regulations were published to prescribe general measures for the control of dust in all areas. These regulations covered sources such as mine dumps and mining generated dust.

Model air quality management by-laws for easy adoption and adaptation by municipalities have been established in February 2009. These by-laws are designed to regulate air pollution within the area of the municipality’s jurisdiction and have provided a legal and administrative framework to deal with localised sources of air pollution.

A strategy had been developed to address air pollution in dense low-income settlements. The strategy had been presented to social and economic clusters and an action plan had been formulated. An Integrated strategy to control vehicle emissions was under development and the draft strategy was awaiting Cabinet approval and initiation.

Members were curious to know more about the phenomena that contributed to, and were the result of, air pollution. Was the level of sand found in townships a contributing factor? What about veld fires? What contributed to the brown haze effect in Cape Town? There was concern expressed over South Africa emerging as a major mercury emitter.
 

Meeting report

Department of Environmental Affairs briefing
Dr Thuli Mdluli, Chief Director: Air Quality Management, Department of Environmental Affairs, referred to the National Environmental Management (NEM) Air Quality Act (AQA) (39) of 2004, which came into effect after the Air Pollution Prevention Act (APPA) (45) of 1965. The APPA was regarded ineffective, as it focused on individual source emissions. The AQA presented a distinct shift from exclusively source-based air pollution control to holistic and integrated effects-based air quality management that addressed the adverse impact of air pollution on the ambient environment, pollutant levels in ambient air and emission standards. The inaugural 2007 National Framework (NF), as mandated by section 7(1) of the AQA, made provision for legislative and policy context, roles and responsibilities for air quality management, approach to air quality governance and strategy development. The following tools were identified to implement the NF: air quality information management, the South African air quality information system (SAAQIS), air quality publications and reporting, and the South African Weather Service (SAWS) as the suitable custodian of the SAAQIS.
The draft 2012 NF made provision for a five-year interval for the review of the NF, for lessons learnt during the implementation of the 2007 NF, the stock taking of achievements made to date and the implementation of improvements to the AQA. In the NF, the Minister established national standards for municipalities and provinces to monitor ambient air quality, among other requirements, in order to report compliance with ambient air quality standards.

National Ambient Air Quality Standards
The AQA defined national ambient air quality standards as air quality that was not harmful to health and well-being. The NF established provincial and local ambient air quality standards (see report for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, ozone and benzene figures), with the provision that such standards “may not alter any such national standards for the province or municipality except by stricter standards”. South Africa had also been identified as a major mercury emitter because of its coal plants. Plans had been put in place to monitor it.

Appointment of Air Quality Officers
The Minister, MEC and each municipality have designated officials within their jurisdictions and such persons were responsible for co-ordinating air quality management in their respective spheres. Air quality officers’ functions were further stipulated in the NF.

Air Quality Management Plans
Provinces and national departments were required to establish and implement air quality management plans (AQMPs). Municipalities had to do the same and include their AQMPs in their integrated development plans (IDPs). The NF served as the Department’s AQMP. A manual to guide the development and management of AQMPs was published in 2007 and revised in 2011. The AQMPs was introduced to identify all air pollution sources and develop a baseline report of the status quo, set air quality management objectives, identify resources required to get to the desired state and implement, monitor and report against the AQMP.

National Air Quality Priority Areas
Areas where ambient standards have been exceeded or the Minister or MEC reasonably believes have been exceeded, are declared priority areas. The AQMP must be established following a consultative and participatory process. Regulations might have to be developed to enforce the AQMP. To date three priority areas have been declared and action has been taken to address the problems. These areas are: Vaal Triangle Airshed Priority Area (VTAPA), Highveld Priority Area (HPA) and Waterberg-Bojanala Priority Area (WBPA). The main air pollution sources in the priority areas have been identified as industrial emissions (various industrial complexes), domestic burning of dirty fuels in highly populated areas, mining operations and vehicle emissions.

Industrial Emission Limits
The Minister or MEC published a list of activities which have caused atmospheric emissions and also defined associated minimum emission standards for those activities. As a consequence of being listed, atmospheric emission licenses to operate are required. Licensing Authorities have been authorised to deal with industrial emission limits processes. A draft notice had been formulated to declare small boilers as controlled emitters. The Department, in partnership with the SABS, was also in the process of declaring mobile asphalt plants.

Pollution Prevention Plans
The Minister or MEC had been given the authority to declare any substance contributing to air pollution a priority pollutant. Plans have been put in place to declare greenhouse gases priority pollutants, to acquire mitigation plans according to international commitments and to amend the AQA to enable monitoring, evaluation and reporting against those mitigation plans. Draft regulations were published to prescribe general measures for the control of dust in all areas. These regulations covered sources such as mine dumps and mining generated dust.

Model Air Quality Municipal By-Laws
Model air quality management by-laws for easy adoption and adaptation by municipalities were established in February 2009. These by-laws regulated air pollution within the area of the municipality’s jurisdiction and provided a legal and administrative framework to deal with localised sources of air pollution, such as sugar-cane burning.

Atmospheric Emission Licensing Form
The purpose of this form was to regulate the administrative processes for the processing, consideration and decision of applications for atmospheric emission licences and for matters pertaining thereto. It also provided for matters pertaining to the implementation of the atmospheric emission licensing system.

Non-Conventional Sources of Air Pollution
A strategy had been developed to address air pollution in dense, low-income settlements.  The strategy had been presented to social and economic clusters and an action plan had been formulated. An Integrated strategy to control vehicle emissions was under development and the draft strategy was awaiting Cabinet approval and initiation.

State of Air: 2005-2012
The state of air in locations representing regional, urban, neighbourhood, and source-oriented spatial scale were sampled. Sampling sites generated an average data recovery of 80%, or above. Monitoring stations in Cape Town, eThekwini, Tshwane, Vaal Triangle Priority Area, Highveld Priority Area and Eskom (only 2012) measured particulate matter (PM10) and Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) concentrations in those areas (see report for figures).

The National Air Quality Indicator (NAQI)
The purpose of the NAQI was to monitor the state and trend of air ambient quality in South Africa and the efficacy of air quality interventions such as policies, regulations and AQMPs. There were 45 monitoring stations reporting. A PM10 and SO2 national annual average from 1994 to 2012 were recorded (see report).

Discussion
Mr J Skosana (ANC) wanted to know how the Department prioritised areas with high air pollution levels.  Did air quality management take place in areas that were not priority?

Ms Mdluli replied that places falling outside priority areas were covered under air quality management, but that their resources were more concentrated in priority areas

Ms B Ferguson (COPE) asked what contributed to the brown haze effect in Cape Town.

Ms Mdluli replied that the brown haze in Cape Town was a phenomenon that the Department had been studying for quite some time. It was found that diesel vehicles contributed to it. The City of Cape Town had implemented local interventions, such as a diesel vehicle testing centre, that ensured that vehicles were not exceeding its emissions.

Ms Ferguson asked if soil also contributed to air pollution levels in low lying areas, such as Khayelitsha.

Ms Mdluli said that it was a massive problem in the townships, because there was mostly bare land without any vegetation. Municipal bylaws should assist with specific local problems.

Ms Ferguson asked whether the strategy to develop and address air pollution in dense low-income settlements had been sold to the social and economic clusters.

Ms Mdluli replied that the Department had managed to sell the strategy for addressing air pollution to the clusters. The Department was now in the process of approaching the clusters with a vehicle emission strategy.

Ms Ferguson referred to the audits of monitoring networks as mentioned by the Department, and wanted to know if it had the required expertise.

Ms Mdluli replied that the Department had the required skills. Air quality had been researched in the country since 1965. Besides the different skills sets in government, the Department was also able to utilise the skills provided in the private sector and in universities.

Ms Ferguson asked when the online reporting system referred to in phase 3 would be completed.

Ms Mdluli replied that the phase 3 online reporting system would start in January 2014, after the completion of phase 2.

Ms M Wenger (DA) questioned the statistics received from the Vanderbijlpark and Meyerton monitoring stations, as they had not been operational for a while. How did the Department get its information?

Ms Mdluli replied that the Department was aware of the non-operational monitoring systems and was trying to address the situation.  The stations had been vandalised and the money paid out by the insurance company had gone to the municipality.  The stations may not be resuscitated and the Department would have to invest in new stations.

Ms Wenger asked whether the Department had considered veld fires as an air pollutant.

Ms Mdluli replied that veld fires were a very big source of air pollution, especially as they occurred mostly during the winter months. The huge scale of the fires was also very difficult to control.

Mr F Rodgers (DA) expressed concern at South Africa being a major mercury emitter. What was the Department going to do about it?

Ms Mdluli replied that a mercury treaty would be signed in October and after that incorporated into legislation.

Mr Rodgers referred to the power stations designed in Botswana. Were they coal-driven?  If so, did Botswana have its own coal resources?

Ms Mdluli replied that the Botswana power stations would be coal-driven. The country possessed a lot of coal, as it shared the same belt as South Africa.

Mr Rodgers said that the graphs showed very little consistency, with no pattern in the information. Was a unified system being used, as the graphs did not show any trends at all?

Ms Mdluli replied that the monitoring system was unified. The disparities were caused by what had been measured not lining up with what had been projected. It also had not followed what the Department wanted in terms of ambient quality

Conclusion
The Chairperson said that he was pleasantly surprised by the report and the improvements shown. He would like to be updated on the mercury issue and requested the Department to provide him with reports every six months.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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