The Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi officially launched the Waterberg-Bojanala Priority Area (WBPA) on Friday, 20 July 2012, in Limpopo. She also opened the Waterberg-Bojanala Monitoring Network on the day, which consists of three air quality monitoring stations in Lephalele, Thabazimbi and Mokopane; these will support air quality management initiatives targeted at the Priority Area.
A Priority Area is a defined geographical area within which ambient air quality standards are being, or may be exceeded, causing health and environmental impacts. In terms of section 18(1) of the Air Quality Act (AQA) an area may, by notice in the Gazette, be declared as a National Priority Area if the Minister reasonably believes that firstly, ambient air quality standards are being, or may be, exceeded in the area or any other situation exists which is causing, or may cause, a significant negative impact on air quality. This then means that the declared area requires specific air quality management action to rectify the situation.
Previously, the declaration of air quality priority areas (the Vaal Triangle Airshed and the Highveld) has been focused on areas that are confirmed air quality hotspots. In the case of the Waterberg-Bojanala Priority Area, however, the air quality in that area is relatively good but it has been declared a Priority Area in anticipation of the ambient air quality standards eventually being exceeded due to planned developments. The declaration (gazetted in Gazette No. 35435 on 15 June 2012) is, therefore, a proactive one on the part of the Department. As highlighted by the Deputy Minister during the launch: “It is also a proactive measure to ensure that government, industry and the community at large work together in ensuring that current and future emissions in this area remain within the National Ambient Air Quality Standard.”
The work by government to put in place proactive and precautionary measures prior to planned industrial developments in the Waterberg-Bojanala District is a prime case of government seeking a balance between the need for job creation and economic development (as was emphasised by the President in his 2012 State of the Nation Address) and the need to protect people’s health and well-being, as part of government’s Constitutional mandate. The Deputy Minister has explained that “this is why the Districts were declared a Priority Area soon after the President’s State of the Nation’s Address – to ensure that such mega developments in the area are taking into consideration the health and well-being of our people”.
The three air quality monitoring stations opened by the Deputy Minister are placed on public premises and were bought by the Department to support air quality management initiatives targeted at the WBPA. They will be used to ensure that there is accurate data regarding key air quality pollutants in the area, as well as setting an accurate baseline for assessing the impact of any forthcoming developments that can significantly influence the general ambient air quality within the WBPA. They will measure the levels of air pollution 24 hours a day, every day. As the Deputy Minister noted in her speech, “the significance of monitoring the air quality in this area is to be able to see if the interventions that we put in place are working.”
This will be done by measuring air pollution levels now, prior to any interventions and major industrial activity taking place, and to measure continuously into the future during and after the implementation of various interventions. Air pollution measurements from these air quality monitoring stations will over time assist air quality policy makers to detect abrupt changes in air quality levels and be in a position to act on time. This exemplifies a complete paradigm shift in how government intends managing air quality in the country.
Alongside the declaration of the WBPA and opening of the stations, the Department also has other special interventions aimed at improving air quality in the WBPA. These include the development of a Priority Area Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP) and Threat Assessment that will be developed in accordance with the provisions of the AQA. The plan seeks to reduce environmental and human health risks and reduce emissions in an equitable and cost-effective manner. Once the plan is developed and implemented, air quality in the WBPA should efficiently and effectively be brought into sustainable compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards within agreed timeframes. The plan will also empower local municipalities as well as provincial and national government to meet their obligations as set out in the Air Quality Act.
With this launch, government has now declared three National Priority Areas: The Vaal Triangle Airshed, the Highveld, and the Waterberg-Bojanala Priority areas in 2006, 2007 and 2012 respectively. In addition, implementation of the Air Quality Management Plans for the Vaal Triangle and Highveld Priority Areas is already underway. As encouraged by the Deputy Minister, the next time the country gathers for such an event, it should be “to withdraw the Waterberg/Bojanala Priority Area as a Priority Area because we would have collectively taken action to ensure that the quality of air is within acceptable ambient air quality standards. You will all agree that, that would be the best gift to the future generation.”