Air Pollution and Oil Refineries: briefing


24 May 2000
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

24 May 2000

Memorandum to six Ministers (attached to end of minutes)

The Portfolio Committees on Environment, Trade and Industry, Minerals and Energy, Health, Water Affairs, and Transport, were invited to a briefing by an expert team from Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) from the United States, working in conjunction with groundWorks, a South African NGO. Also present was Andy Birkenshaw, representing a CBO involved in the local struggle for clean air, and Heeten Kalan, of the South African Exchange Program on Environmental Justice, who presented a range of policy options.

The group is on a "toxic tour" of South Africa that is being documented on

Bobby Peek, of groundWorks, began the meeting with a brief history of the oil refinery and air pollution struggle in South Africa. This has included both civil society action and an internationalised campaign. Andy Birkenshaw of the Table View Residents Association presented the perspective of a community living in close proximity to the Caltex Oil Refinery. He chronicled the attempts of the association to get that company to honour its pledge to reduce sulphur emissions by 80%. Both Peek and Birkenshaw urged the Committee to interact with government on regulating the emission standards.

The Chair immediately organised a field trip for Members to visit Table View following the meeting. However, it was recognised that this is not a local issue, and that the problem needs to be addressed nationally.

Denny Larson of the California-based Communities for a Better Environment then gave a presentation on the Bucket Brigade. This is a community mobilisation and empowerment initiative that centers around a simple air-monitoring system. Community members can be trained to take air samples using these "buckets", and the samples can then be sent off to a laboratory for analysis. The U.S. experience has been that once a community begins taking its own samples, government starts to get more involved. Moreover, knowledge of exactly which chemicals are in the air has the benefit of getting appropriate medical attention enabling the company to trace the leaks and solve the problem.

In fact, it makes economic sense for companies to do this, and over 200 U.S. companies have instituted pollution reduction mechanisms as a result of this process.

The next speaker was Shipra Bansal, a scientific advisor to CBE. She reported that there is a severe lack of data in South Africa, and that it is difficult to ensure rights without it. She pointed out that there are other chemicals besides Sulphur Dioxide that are emitted from oil refineries, and that fugitive emissions - gases that escape through leaks or evaporations - equal or sometimes exceed stack emissions. Yet none of this is monitored.

She presented comparative data on guidelines and standards, and showed how South African standards are orders of magnitude weaker than American standards, and are not health protective.

She also made an argument rebutting the myth of the environment verses the economy. Studies from the Harvard School of Business, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the California Senate show that the tighter the environmental regulations, the more the economic growth and increase in jobs. This is because of savings in both wages and healthcare.

Heeten Kalan's presentation focused on three policy directions. He stressed that the DEAT has been developing processes without input from communities. What is needed are negotiated and agreed upon standards of monitoring and emissions through a national multi-stakeholder process.

Initiatives are needed on:
Toxic Release Inventory - a list detailing the chemicals that refineries should report on.
The public's right to know
Toxic Use Reduction Initiative. As a model, he cited a parastatal in Massachussets that looks at how industries can reduce their toxic emissions in conjunction with the state.

In the discussion that followed, the following additional points were made:
If multi-nationals invest in lowering their emissions, they are more likely to stay in the country - as opposed to running their plants into the ground and then leaving the problem behind for the government to clean up. This is what happened in the U.S.

So long as government is not playing a regulatory role, oil companies can claim that they are already operating within their permits, and that they are the ones taking the lead on reducing emission levels. From a lawyer's perspective, the silence from the government is "deafening."

The buckets for collecting air samples can be constructed locally, and a South African laboratory needs to be identified that could analyze the samples. This could be a low cost solution to the government's claim that it has no monitoring capacity. The buckets can test for other air pollutants besides those emitted by oil refineries: they can test for over 100 different gases. It does not test for particularates, i.e. dust and soot. But technology can be developed for that, too.

Appendix 1:

Tuesday, 2 May 2000

Attention: Minister Valli Moosa,
Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism; Minister Alec Erwin, Minister of Trade and Industry; Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs; Minister Manto Tshabala-Msimang, Minister of Health; Minister Dullah Omar, Minister of Transport; Minister Ronnie Kasrils, Ministry of Water Affairs and Forestry.

Memorandum from:
The following civil society organisations:-
Legal Resources Centre (LRC)
Environmental Justice Networking Forum -Western Cape (EJNF - WC)
Wildlife and Environment Society - Western Cape & Kingsburgh branches
Group for Environmental Monitoring (GEM)
Tableview Ratepayers Association (TRA)
South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA)

We the above civil society organisations which gathered at the Legal Resources Centre, Greenmarket Square, in Cape Town on Thursday, March 23, 2000, forward this memorandum to the various Government Ministries recorded above.
Further to the above listed organisations, this memorandum is also supported by representatives of:
South African National Civics Organisation, Zamdela, Sasolburg
National Union of Mineworkers, Sasolburg
ANC Youth League, Sasolburg
Concerned HIV and AIDs Youth Group (CHAYG), Zamdela.
The aim of this memorandum is to elicit a collaborative urgent response from the above addressed Ministries that have a responsibility concerning oil refining and the resultant products produced in South Africa.

Noting that:
1. April is the month in which Earth Day 2000 is celebrated worldwide, and in South Africa, with its theme being "Clean Energy Now". The Earth Day Worldwide Network operates in more than 170 countries, working with more than 4500 civil society organisations and supported by more than 500 million people.

2. The oil refinery industry in South Africa was developed within the economic framework of the apartheid system, the legacy of which is still felt after five years of democratic governance.

3. The South African economy is growing, and such growth means an increase in capacity and the possible expansion and/or establishment of more refineries, which would lead to further environmental degradation given the present framework of weak environmental governance and enforcement.

4. For over four decades there has been active campaigning by those communities directly affected by the consequences of poor regulation of oil refineries in South Africa. Since the establishment in 1954 of South Africa's first oil refinery in South Durban, by the then Stanvac Oil Company, the South Durban communities have voiced their concerns about the environmental risks and hazards posed by the refinery. And later in the greater Cape Town area, the local community has raised concerns about the lack of environmental governance and enforcement at the Caltex refinery.

5. In the new democratic South Africa, communities are seeking relief from their representative government from poor and unjust environmental standards. Communities are prepared to work in cooperation with government to ensure that all economic development upholds the value of human and natural capital to serve the common people and their priorities.

6. The Strategic Development Initiative (SDI) for the greater Durban area is dependent on the further development of fossil fuel refining. However, due to the poor environmental record of the various industries already in the area, there is no remaining capacity to accept more pollution-causing industries. This is according to the Strategic Environmental Assessment of South Durban (SEA-SD).

7. Environmental regulation of the oil refinery industry will only be successful when strong cooperative governance is established between the various responsible arms of government.

8. There are no legally enforceable air pollution standards in South Africa that can be used to control oil refineries. Instead there are only non-binding guidelines that date back to the Air Pollution Prevention Act of 1965 (APPA).

9. Although we have new environmental policy and legislation, South Africa lacks legislation that improves upon the APPA of 1965.

10. There is sufficient evidence worldwide and in South Africa, to show causal linkages between pollution from the oil industry and ill-health and disease.

11. Over the last five years there has been a non-substantive and slow response from government to concerns repeatedly raised by various civil society organisations about oil and refinery related issues. These concerns have included:

- In August 1994, the Caltex refinery in Cape Town made a public statement that they would reduce their emissions of sulphur dioxide by eighty percent. Caltex rescinded on this commitment. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) did little to work with Caltex and the community to implement this commitment, which would have resulted in a major improvement of the environmental conditions for residents neighbouring Caltex. The lack of a positive response by government has resulted in the local community lodging a formal complaint with South African Human Rights Commission.

In March 1995, when former President Nelson Mandela visited the Engen refinery in South Durban, the community took to the streets to protest against Engen's pollution. The DEAT, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs (DME) were tasked by the President to work together in a cooperative manner to find a solution to the Engen pollution problem. Eventually, however, it was left to the South Durban community representatives with their technical advisors and Engen who developed a voluntary agreement in August 1998 around pollution reduction, rather than the various government departments assisting in finding a solution to the impasse.

On the 27 February 1996 the then Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism indicated that an independent team of technical experts would evaluate the current guidelines for emissions from oil refineries. Several meetings took place between the Chief Air Pollution Control Officer (CAPCO) and the communities, but nothing ever materialised and the commitment by the Deputy Minster was never implemented.

In February 2000, after SAPREF admitted to incorrectly calculating their sulphur dioxide emissions, the SDCEA and groundWork again called for a review of emission standards for oil refineries. This review should take place at a national level in an inclusive manner to attain agreed upon standards for emissions and the procedures for monitoring of these emissions. To date the DEAT has not responded to this request.

In October 1999, the LRC, the legal representatives of the SDCEA and TRA submitted to the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism a memorandum of: "Complaint concerning violation of constitutional right to environment with particular reference to failure to regulate by the Chief Air Pollution Control Office" (see Attachment one). To date, no formal response has been received from the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to this detailed historical breakdown of community concerns. Once again an independent review of refinery emission standards was called for, as well as stronger ambient air quality standards, source emission control, air quality monitoring and pollution movement modelling.

In October 1999
, the Group for Environmental Monitoring (GEM) mandated the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) to respond to NATREF's proposed expansion plans at Sasolburg. The LRC's submission raised various concerns inter alia the environmental risk the expansion project posed for the broader public as a result of already high pollution levels in the Sasolburg and Vaal Triangle area and the "failure to adequately investigate and assess the significance of the possible impact of the proposed project". Although there have been significant exchanges of correspondence and meetings, there have been no substantive solutions forthcoming from government to address these concerns.

On the 8th April 2000, at a meeting of civil society organisations from the Zamdela Community in Sasolburg, those present raised concerns about the already high industrial pollution levels in Zamdela, and the impact that the NATREF expansion would have on the pollution levels in the Zamdela area.

As of April 2000, Sasol is currently undertaking a Strategic Environmental Assessment (S-SEA) of future developmental scenarios for Secunda. As there are no appropriate emission and ambient air pollution standards in SA, and no legally-binding laws for the oil refining industry, government will be unable to respond to the S-SEA and adequately advise Sasol with regards to further development.

12. The taxi re-capitalisation plan that will rely on diesel will have significant implications for environmental degradation, especially in populated urban areas.

13. Economic development will be stifled if the DEAT does not act decisively and appropriately in the matter of environmental governance and oil refineries. This is because the unnecessarily high emission levels at refineries saturate the environment and therefore significantly limit the development opportunities for other industries.

14. The failure of government to act in a decisive and appropriate manner is a violation of civil society's human rights as set out in the South African Bill of Rights.

In our aim to achieve a clean energy South Africa and clean production facilities in South Africa, we call upon:

1. The DEAT to take government's constitutional commitments in the Bill of Rights seriously and to start implementing regulatory environments that will secure citizens' rights for communities living next to oil refineries.

2. The DEAT to set in place a structure that brings all the responsible government departments together in a framework of strong cooperative governance, to develop unified, collaborative solutions to the environmental governance problem around refineries.

3. The DTI and DME to set in place financial mechanisms that will encourage and promote the implementation of improved technology and production systems within the oil industry that will result in improved environmental performance. This must reverse the legacy of apartheid economic development that had little regard for the value of human and natural capital.

4. The DEAT to set in place a national representative body that will foster cooperative governance between all the relevant stakeholders to determine national standards with regard to refinery operations, and air emission standards in particular. The need for the above was highlighted to DEAT by civil society in 1996, 1999 and in February 2000.

5. The DEAT to review air pollution legislation models throughout the world where there are refinery industries with the aim of developing an appropriate model for South Africa to replace the APPA. This legislation is to be based upon legally-enforceable ambient air and stack emissions standards and not guidelines, as presently is the case.

6. The DEAT to review all refinery permits and bring them in line with the Engen refinery permit which commits the industry to ongoing environmental improvements.

7. The DEAT to respond more speedily to the various concerns that we the above civil society organisations have raised over the last few years. We recall that it was a government minister, Minister Asmal, who raised concerns about government's slothfulness in responding to civil society's concerns addressed to government.

8. The DOH and DEAT to cooperate to develop a new set of pollution impact standards that reflect the World Health Organisations (WHO) standards and guidelines, which will safeguard civil society from the health impacts of poor practices of polluting practices industry, and which will foster development. These standards should be developed to meet the Human Rights commitments as set out in the Bill of Rights.

9. Government should develop national sector specific air emission standards for all refineries, and these standards should be qualified by local conditions.

10. Government to set in place legislation that will allow for continuous air pollution emission monitoring both at stack and ambient. This is in order that all affected parties have clear information on exactly what pollution is emitted and from which industry. This will prohibit the indiscriminate dumping of pollution on civil society as was the case at the SAPREF refinery in South Durban.

11. Government should develop a profile of easily accessible public education and awareness material explaining the impacts of pollution at a grassroots level.

12. Government to develop a toxic release inventory for the various refineries in South Africa in the short term.

13. Local co-operative agreements to be promoted and established between local refineries, civil society representatives and government, as set out in Chapter 8 of the NEMA. These should be undertaken not only within the framework of future air pollution standards, but also explicitly to improve refinery operations standards beyond any future national standards.

14. Government to develop as a matter of urgency air quality management systems in those areas in which refineries are located.

15. DEAT and the DOH to work on mechanisms that will foster greater capacity-building, sharing, exchange and co-operation between local air pollution officers and environmental health officers, particularly in heavily industrialised areas.

Finally, recognising the need for ongoing development in South Africa, we call upon the various government ministers above:

To respond in writing to this memorandum by Thursday, June 1, 2000 explaining what are their detailed strategies and plans of action with regards to addressing the above concerns and requests. Furthermore, to highlight ways in which civil society and government can cooperate to allow development to take place within a framework that fosters sustainability, clean production and works towards clean energy production and alternatives for the future.


No related


No related documents


  • We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: