groundWork is a non-profit environmental justice service and developmental organization working primarily in Southern Africa in the areas of Climate & Energy Justice, Coal, Environmental Health, Global Green and Healthy Hospitals, and Waste. groundWork is the South African member of Health Care Without Harm and Friends of the Earth International.


Victory - Environment Minister withdraws illegally doubled SO2 pollution standards

Pollution haze from an Eskom power station

Pollution haze from an Eskom power station - Photo: Simon Waller for groundWork

23 May 2019 - Following groundWork’s litigation instituted last month to set aside government’s unlawful plan to double the amount of the harmful pollutant sulphur dioxide (SO2) polluters are allowed to emit, the Environmental Affairs Minister yesterday withdrew this provision.

The doubling had been published for implementation on 31 October 2018 without inviting public comment on it as the Air Quality Act requires – which made it unlawful.

In an attempt to remedy this failure, the Minister has now published a second notice, in which she invites 30 days’ public comment on the same proposed amendment to the minimum emission standards which would allow all coal-fired boilers to emit double their previously-allowed SO2 pollution from 1 April 2020.
Eskom and Sasol are South Africa’s biggest emitters of SO2.

SO2 is a notorious pollutant that causes significant harm to human health and the environment. It can affect the respiratory system and the functions of the lungs, and causes irritation of the eyes. Inflammation of the respiratory tract causes coughing, mucus secretion, aggravation of asthma and chronic bronchitis, and makes people more prone to infections of the respiratory tract.  Studies have linked SO2 to low birth weight in infants and an increased risk for gestational diabetes mellitus, stillbirths, and pre-term births. Hospital admissions for cardiac disease and mortality increase on days with higher SO2 levels.  When SO2 combines with water, it forms sulphuric acid, which is the main component of acid rain.

Read the full media release here.

Vaal Community take to Mass Action - Challenging Corporate Environmental Injustices – Challenging ArcelorMittal and Seriti Mining

23 May 2019 - In a media release the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) has announced that:

"Today, the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance kicks off two days of mass action against corporate environmental injustices in the Vaal area. Corporates such as ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) and Seriti continue with impunity their everyday business of polluting society that impacts upon people's health and well-being. Government is a co-conspirator for they fail to enforce laws that are there to protect the people of the Vaal.

The Vaal Triangle was declared the first High Priority Area (HPA) by the Department of Environmental Affairs in 2006. Since then nothing has changed in terms of compliance with ambient air quality standards that harms people's health and well-being".

Read the full media release here.

Records show Minister's failure to interrogate devastating impacts of proposed coal plant

21 May 2019 - New records filed in court by the Department of Environmental Affairs show that the Minister of Environmental Affairs did not properly consider the unacceptably high climate impacts of the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power station, which was first authorised in February 2015.

These records were filed as part of environmental justice groups Earthlife Africa and groundWork's court challenge instituted in March last year to set aside the Minister of Environmental Affairs' decision to authorise the emission-intensive Thabametsi coal-fired power station in Limpopo. The Minister authorised the plant irrespective of the evidence of the project's very high climate change impacts, which the Minister had been ordered (in a previous successful court challenge by Earthlife Africa) in March 2017  to consider. Earthlife Africa and groundWork now have filed supplementary papers, setting out the Minister's failures.

Thabametsi, if it proceeds, would be one of the most emission-intensive coal-fired power stations in the world, and would cost South Africa R12.57 billion in comparison to a least-cost electricity system.

Read the full media release here.

Global Green and Healthy Hospitals releases 2018 Annual Report

Health education poster from India

GGHH member hospitals in India are monitoring air pollution and educating their communities on the health impacts. The Healthy Energy Initiative India developed advocacy and educational posters.

15 May 2019 - Global Green and Healthy Hospitals (GGHH), a project of Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), is an international network of hospitals, health care facilities, health systems, and health organizations dedicated to reducing their environmental footprint and promoting public and environmental health.

Launched in 2011, the GGGH network has more than 1,160 members in 55 countries on 6 continents who represent the interests of over 36,000 hospitals and health centres. From small rural health clinics, to modern urban hospitals, to sub-national and national ministries of health, the GGHH network is as diverse as it is expansive.

This diversity and reach is the strength and backbone of GGHH that supports network members to take action. By sharing experiences, successes and challenges, GGHH members are working together locally, nationally, regionally and internationally to transform the health sector and foster a healthy, sustainable future.

Download the full report here (12 MB).

CER calls for a new Climate Change portfolio in the Presidency

14 May 2019 - The Centre for Environmental Rights has written to President Ramaphosa about his upcoming cabinet selection, asking him to give priority to the urgent need to improve environmental governance in South Africa by appointing Ministers and Deputy Ministers who are strong, forward thinking leaders, committed to reforming environmental and water governance, and addressing the global threat of climate change.

In particular, CER has recommended that a climate change portfolio be created in the Presidency, alternatively that a new Department of Energy and Climate be created; and that no attempt be made to merge the dysfunctional Department of Water & Sanitation with another department.

Read the full media release here.

groundWork goes to court to defeat Minister’s plan to weaken air pollution standards

06 May 2019 - Environmental justice group groundWork, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), has launched High Court proceedings against Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and the President of South Africa to set aside government’s plan to double the amount of the harmful pollutant sulphur dioxide (SO2) polluters are allowed to emit.

The weakening of the standards gazetted by the Minister would allow all coal-fired boilers to emit double their previously-allowed SO2 pollution from 1 April 2020. This includes the already heavily-polluted Vaal, Highveld and Waterberg Priority Areas, where coal pollution kills thousands of people every year.

The weakened standards for SO2 are now approximately 10 times weaker than the equivalent standards in India and about 28 times weaker than the standards in China.

If the court agrees with groundWork, big SO2 emitters like Eskom and Sasol will have to act immediately to reduce their pollution and so reduce their impact on people’s health and well-being.  This will require significant capital expenditure – which industries want to avoid – or they could face both criminal and civil action for violating the law.

Read the full media release here.

South Africa: Activists in Mining Areas Harassed - Government, Companies Should Protect Environment Defenders

16 April 2019 – Community activists in mining areas in South Africa face harassment, intimidation, and violence, the Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthjustice, and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report and video released today. The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilize to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants.

The 74-page report "We Know Our Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities” and video cites activists’ reports of intimidation, violence, damage to property, use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest for their activities in highlighting the negative impacts of mining projects on their communities. Municipalities often impose barriers to protest on organizers that have no legal basis. Government officials have failed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse, and some mining companies resort to frivolous lawsuits and social media campaigns to further curb opposition to their projects. The government has a constitutional obligation to protect activists.

In communities across South Africa, the rights of activists to peacefully organize to protect their livelihoods and the environment from the harm of mining are under threat,” said Matome Kapa, attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights. “South African authorities should address the environmental and health concerns related to mining, instead of harassing the activists voicing these concerns.”

Read the full media release here.

Roundup still in SA despite cancer fears

08 April 2019 - Pharmaceuticals company Bayer says its subsidiary Monsanto will continue to sell its Roundup weed killer in SA despite a US jury last month awarding nearly $80m to a man who claimed it had given him cancer. According to court documents, Edwin Hardeman, 70, used Roundup for 30 years. Though no direct link between Hardeman's cancer and Roundup has been confirmed, the jury voted in his favour on the basis that there were insufficient warnings about the risk of using the product. Last year, a jury awarded Dewayne Johnson, who has non Hodgkin's lymphoma, $78m in damages for his exposure to Roundup.

A spokesperson for Bayer cited 800 studies, including a 2018 National Cancer Institute study that found there was no link between glyphosate based herbicides and cancer, as evidence of the products' safety. However, 2015 research by the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer found that gly phosate was a probable carcinogen, or cancer causing substance.

Rico Euripidou, groundWork's Health Campaign Manager, said that most farm workers in SA were not properly informed about Roundup's hazardous properties, sometimes couldn't read or understand the labels and did not have equipment to protect them from exposure. "Most farm workers I have observed especially in the forestry sector who apply Roundup do so with leaking knapsacks on their naked backs, or soaked through T shirts during the many calendar days when they are applying the weedkiller. If they get sick they are taken to a rural clinic which is not equipped to understand nor manage or measure their exposure and treatment, and instead if they are too sick to work they will in all likelihood be sent home to deal with their health impacts them selves".

Read the full Sunday Times article here.

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