It is not just nature that has begun to fill the spaces we have vacated, highly contested regulations are being passed now, having evaded the proper public participation processes due to the emergency Covid-19 lockdown.
We are used to conspiratorial manipulation of public downtime by minister Gwede Mantashe to shunt through mining legislation and regulation – more on this later – but now we see the same from environmental minister Barbara Creecy.
Today South Africa’s planned emission limits for sulphur dioxide (SO2) pollution will double. Our Department of Environmental Affairs has prioritized the coal boilers of Africa’s two biggest polluters, Eskom and Sasol, over our rights to a clean environment. Exposure to 100 parts of SO2 per million parts of air (100 ppm) is considered immediately dangerous to life and health. These new emission standards will allow 381.6 ppm – nearly 4 times this. Studies have linked SO2to low birth weight in infants and an increased risk for premature deaths, gestational diabetes mellitus, stillbirths, and pre-term births. Sulphur dioxide causes acid rain and those living near these boilers complain of burning of the nose and throat, eye irritation, breathing difficulties, and severe airway obstructions. These impacts pose a substantial risk to the vulnerable and poor especially in days facing the coronavirus pandemic.