Air pollution from coal-fired power plants run by Eskom risks killing 79,500 people from 2025 until they are due to be shut, according to a study submitted to a government-appointed panel.
The research by the Finland-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air assumes that the utility will continue to operate its plants as it does currently, with many of them breaching South African emission standards.
The study was cited on Wednesday by the Centre for Environmental Rights, a legal organization representing environmental activist organizations in its submission to a panel on air pollution.
“If Eskom is allowed to continue as is, emissions from the company’s fleet of ailing power plants will cost thousands of lives,” Cape Town-based CER said in a statement.
South Africa’s reliance on coal for more than 80% of its electricity has resulted in areas east and south of Johannesburg, the commercial capital, having some of the worst air quality in the world.
Eskom didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last year, environmental groups won a court case against the government, which was ordered to clamp down on pollution by Eskom and Sasol, which produces motor fuel and chemicals from coal.
The environment department has rejected Eskom’s applications for exemptions from air pollution limits at some plants. The power utility appealed the decision, and the panel was set up to examine its arguments against the decision.
Eskom, which is battling to meet power demand, has said if it’s forced to comply, it will need to close 16,000 megawatts of generation capacity because it can’t afford to install the pollution-abatement equipment needed.
If Eskom complied with pollution limits, 34,400 lives could be saved, CREA said. Its sulfur dioxide emissions would fall 60%, nitrogen oxides by 20%, particulate matter by 50% and mercury by 40%, the research organization said.
The pollutants cause a range of ailments ranging from respiratory disease to heart attacks and strokes.