South Africa

South African government sued over air pollution

South Africa’s environment minister, the national air-quality officer and the local unit of ArcelorMittal SA have been sued by environmental activists for allegedly not acting against the company over its air pollution.

The Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance and groundWork filed the case in the High Court case, they said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

They allege the government has not acted to curb ArcelorMittal South Africa Ltd.’s emissions of pollutants, including hydrogen sulfide, from the continent’s biggest steel plant in Vanderbijlpark, south of Johannesburg.

The suit mirrors an earlier case, won by activists, including groundWork in 2022, against the government over air pollution from coal-fired plants operated by Eskom and Sasol.

In that case, High Court Judge Colleen Collis ruled that Environment Minister Barbara Creecy was constitutionally obliged to enact and enforce rules to ensure cleaner air. The government has appealed.

In the current case, the activists allege that Arcelor’s South African unit has failed to improve air pollution for decades, and even when it has fitted pollution-abatement equipment, it has failed.

The parties bringing the case allege that the government has acted leniently and eased emission limits for the company.

“The minister, instead of bringing industries into compliance, continues to allow for weaker limits,” the activists said in the court papers.

“This erodes the rights of the people living in the area, who are breathing dangerous levels of pollution.”

A swath of South Africa to the east and south of Johannesburg is home to one of the world’s biggest concentrations of coal-burning industries and has some of the world’s worst air pollution.

Coal, which supplies more than 80% of South Africa’s power, also helped build the economy of the continent’s most industrialised nation as it used to power the production of petrochemicals, steel and ferroalloys.

ArcelorMittal South Africa and the environment department didn’t respond to a request for comment.


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