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Eskom says coal pollution kills 330 South Africans a year, number could be higher

South Africa’s coal-fired plants supply more than 80% of the country’s electricity. Pollutants from these plants are known to cause ailments that range from respiratory disease and lung cancer to heart attacks and strokes.

According to Bloomberg, Eskom drew its figure from its own research. Figures from independent reports however put the death toll as high as between 650 and 2 000 people a year.

ESKOM RELUCTANT TO CLOSE DOWN COAL

Eskom and the government have plans to potentially slow down the pace of planned closures to alleviate load shedding – power outages that are crippling the economy.

Environmentalists are protesting against these plans, after Eskom had initially pledged to retire 11 300 megawatts of coal-fired power generation – about a quarter of its capacity – by 2030.

A report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) issued a report in October, saying that suspending those plans could lead to 15 000 additional deaths.

Eskom, in response to questions, stated that it had not conducted a specific study on the health implications of extending the lifespan of its power stations. The company pointed out that the impact on premature deaths, morbidity and health costs can vary significantly based on methodology, assumptions and the types of pollutants considered.

WORLD’S BIGGEST EMITTER

Nevertheless, if Eskom adheres to its original closure schedule by 2030, it expects to reduce particulate matter emissions by 51%, sulfur dioxide emissions by 22% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 28% compared to the levels recorded in 2021.

The pace of closures will “ensure that the necessary energy requirements of the country are met,” Eskom said. The “reduction in emissions, which will lead to improved air quality and less health impacts,” will also play a role in decisions, it said.

According to the CREA, Eskom is the world’s biggest emitter of sulfur dioxide, and according to government figures accounts for about two-fifths of South Africa’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

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