City enjoys cleaner air

2020-04-20 11:52

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The skies are blue, the air is clean and you can breathe much better!

Air pollution throughout the world has plummeted since the lockdown and in Pietermaritzburg it’s no different.

Msunduzi Municipality’s environmental health services, under Clive Anthony, monitors the air quality and has found that there has been a significant reduction of criteria pollutants being monitored. The sidebar below indicates by how much the levels of pollutants dropped during the lockdown.

Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the main emission sources (prior to the lockdown) were attributed to vehicles, sitting at 88%; industry at nine percent; biomass burning two percent and domestic fuel one percent.

During lockdown, there has been a significant reduction in the number of vehicles on the roads. In addition, only essential services industries are permitted to operate. The reduction of pollution may be directly related to this, said Mafumbatha. She said all air monitoring stations in the country are green and indicating a healthy environment(between one and four).

Since long-term exposure to high levels of the pollutants is associated with negative impacts on human health, the further reduction of pollutants during the lockdown has certainly benefited the public at large.

Rico Euripidou, environmental health campaigner at groundWork, said the way the air has cleaned up in some places is a remarkable testament to how unsustainable the “normal” economy and “normal” development is.

In many places around the world, young people are seeing a clear blue sky for the first time. And millions of people with asthma are breathing easier.

The benefits of the reduction in air pollution is partial and short term in SA because many of the dirtiest plants, including Eskom’s big power stations, Sasol’s synfuels and chemical plants, and Sapref — the country’s biggest oil refinery — are still pumping out pollution.

It’s also short term elsewhere because governments and big corporations want the “normal” world back again.

“The poor and most vulnerable suffer most from the health impacts of air pollution and climate change, and they will suffer most from Covid-19 and the economic crisis. That will be used to justify a return to normal, but it is precisely the normal economy that made them poor and vulnerable in the first place”.

Euripidou said cleaner air in SA for a few months may be a “tiny silver lining” ahead of the anticipated Covid-19 epidemic fallout, and will do little in the long run to solve the problem of outdoor air pollution. “... Some scientific studies have even found associations that airborne particulate matter may help to spread the virus.”

He added that during the SARS outbreak in China, a study by researchers at UCLA’s School of Public Health showed that patients with SARS were more than twice as likely to die from the disease if they came from areas of high pollution.

The same seems true of Covid-19: the more air pollution you are exposed to, the sicker you are likely to get. A Harvard study has just found the first correlation between air pollution and Covid-19 deaths in the USA, he added.

Patrick Dowling of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa) Governance group said that in his opinion KZN is undoubtedly benefitting from the massive slow-downs in vehicle volumes, commercial flights, electricity demand, mining and industrial production even though this has had obvious impacts on the economy.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  air pollution

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