Emerging issues
Governance Inland water Atmosphere Vulnerability
Land Marine & coastal Settlements Antarctic & islands
Biodiversity & ecosystems

Air quality

The most common sources of atmospheric emissions that impact on air quality in South Africa include:

  • Electricity generation – power stations for the national grid
  • Industrial and commercial activities and non-domestic fuel-burning appliances operated by businesses, schools, and hospitals
  • Transport – petrol- and diesel-driven vehicle tailpipe emissions, vehicle-entrained road dust, brake- and tyre-wear fugitivesb and rail- and aviation-related emissions
  • Waste treatment and disposal – waste incineration, landfills, and wastewater treatment work
  • Residential – household combustion of coal, paraffin, liquid petroleum gas, dung, and wood
  • Mining – fugitive dust releases and spontaneous combustion emissions
  • Agricultural – crop residue burning, intestinal fermentation, and fertilizer and pesticide application
  • Tyre-burning, wildfires, and fugitive dust from open areas.

There is no current comprehensive national emissions inventory for non-greenhouse gas emissions.

In discussions of air quality, a distinction is made between ambient (outdoor) air quality and indoor air pollution levels.
Ambient air quality is of primary concern in proximity to industrial and mining activities and busy traffic routes, for example.  In such instances, indoor pollutant concentrations are generally lower than are ambient air pollution levels.
In areas where households are using fuels such as wood, paraffin or coal for heating or cooking, indoor air pollutant concentrations are of special concern, particularly in poorly ventilated dwellings.  Here, people are exposed to very high indoor pollutant concentrations, as well as to elevated ambient pollutant concentrations out of doors.
These fuels continue to be used because:
(i) rapid urbanization and the growth of informal settlements have exacerbated backlogs in the distribution of basic services such as electricity, and
(ii) some electrified households find fossil fuels cheaper for heating purposes and prefer their multi-functional character. 
Given the availability of inexpensive coal and the relatively low temperatures of the highveld winter, coal consumption figures are highest for these regions.  Wood is burned in place of coal in coastal regions, such as Cape Town and Ethekwini, and the continued use of coal and wood by much of South Africa, together with the associated health risks, represents arguably the most persistent and significant local air pollution problem.
Indoor air pollutant exposures are also associated with emissions of various organic pollutants, dust, fibres, moulds, bacteria, and metals released from carpeting, wood products made with synthetics, and combustion sources.  Examples include formaldehyde, xylene, ethyl benzene, asbestos, and tobacco smoke.  These exposures have been the subject of extensive research in Europe and the United States of America and are increasingly being investigated in South Africa.
© 2005 - 2010 Department of Environmental Affairs
Site and design by Frameworks
This page was last updated 14/11/2007