Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries remains committed to fighting air pollution
18 June 2020
Last week’s judgment in the Vereenigning Regional court against steel producer ArcelorMittal South Africa for air quality violations, sends a strong signal that the air quality regulatory environment must be respected by industry and government alike. This is the view of the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Ms Barbara Creecy.
The sentence included an order for ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) to pay an amount of R3.63 million to the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. In terms of the court order, this will be utilised for the supply, delivery, installation and commissioning of air quality monitoring instruments for the benefit of the Sedibeng Municipality.
AMSA entered into a plea agreement with the State in which it admitted to violating sections of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act by exceeding minimum hydrogen sulphide emissions standards.
AMSA Limited’s Vanderbijlpark works is located within the Vaal Triangle Airshed Priority Area. The area was declared a priority in 2006 and is one of three priority areas identified nationally in terms of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (AQA) due to concerns about elevated pollution in these areas.
The sentence took account of additional measures AMSA is committed to implementing, subsequent to being issued with administrative notices by the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in 2018. These commitments included, amongst others, the construction of a new gas plant at an approximate cost of 1.1 billion rand which will commence in June 2020.
“This penalty should deter other violators of air quality legislation. It sends a clear message that violations of air quality regulations carry significant penalties, and that the courts are committed to protecting the right of communities to improved air quality,” said Minister Creecy.
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Note to editors:
The summons was issued to AMSA on 30 May 2019. The criminal investigation was initiated by the Green Scorpions following ongoing non-compliances detected at the Vanderbijlpark facility during an inspection undertaken by Environmental Management Inspectors from the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Over the years the authorities have been monitoring compliance within the Ferro Alloy Iron and Steel sector. Three prior inspections had been undertaken at this facility – in November 2008, October 2012 and August 2014.
ArcelorMittal had been given sufficient opportunity since 2009 to effect the necessary changes required to ensure that its operations were being conducted in line with the legal requirements. It is furthermore important to note that non-compliances such as the matter in issue undermines the main objective of the Air Quality Management Plan of the Vaal Triangle Priority Area, which is to bring the ambient air quality in the area into sustainable compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. In addition to the above, this facility is operating in a priority area that already exceeds the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, and the fact that the area has multiple air pollution sources and the cumulative impact of their emissions as well as the close proximity to residential areas, warranted decisive action in order compel compliance with the minimum emission standards as well as conditions contained in Atmospheric Emissions License.