It’s been decade’s and people are still breathing toxic air from chemical & petro chemical industries in South Durban, resulting in notoriously high levels of asthma; cancer and other related respiratory problems in the local communities. The health impact on communities living in south Durban is made worse because of the relatively low height of smoke stacks (50 – 100 m) due to restrictions by plane flight paths (when the old Durban airport was located in Isipingo), the basin topography and local climatic effects. The Bluff dune dams the air that drains downward off the Berea ridge through the river valleys and into the basin trapping the pollution. Off-shore winds also blow pollutants back onto land (at Umbogintwini and Amanzimtoti) area.
In winter, night time temperature inversions compound this problem by keeping pollution close to the ground and preventing it from dispersing upward. The costs of ill health are particularly burdensome for the poor and can drive households from poverty to destitution, but it has been difficult for communities to tackle the persistent air pollution problems they have experienced over the years. The two biggest petro chemical polluters are Engen and SAPREF oil refineries, were historically protected from any public scrutiny by the Apartheid Key Points Act, giving them free reign to pollute. Many other factories and companies in South Durban also contribute enormously in air pollution e.g. paper and pulp industries Mondi and SAPPI.
The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) has done consecutive ambient air monitoring for a period of five months, from March – July 2017, in the communities of Wentworth; Merebank and the Bluff. SDCEA appointed a reputable company called APEX to do the air sampling and air analysis. Monitoring units were deployed at selected location around the three communities.
Results for nitrogen dioxide NO2 showed very high and worrying figures compared to sulphur Dioxide SO2. The health effect of the two pollutant are listed below.
v SO2, Causes coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling around the chest and nose, throat irritation.
v NO2, Inflames the lining of the lungs, & it can reduce immunity to lung infections. This can cause wheezing, coughing, colds, flu and bronchitis.