As South Africa Clings to Coal, A Struggle for the Right to Breathe

Yale Environment 360 discusses As South Africa Clings to Coal, A Struggle for the Right to Breathe. Close ties between the ruling elite and the coal industry have helped perpetuate South Africa’s dependence on the dirtiest fossil fuel for electricity. But now residents of the nation’s most coal-intensive region are suing to force the government to clean up choking air pollution.

Thomas Mnguni often woke to find the windows and floors of his home covered in a layer of black dust. Living between two coal mines and a landfill in Middelburg, South Africa, he and his family breathed some of the country’s most polluted air.

When Mnguni’s son developed symptoms of asthma, a doctor recommended that the family move to a different part of town. Now living about six miles from the mines, the 14-year-old is doing better. But others in the area aren’t so fortunate. Residents of Middelburg and other communities in an industrialized swath of the Highveld, a plateau in central South Africa, are well acquainted with air pollution and its toll on health. The area — located east of Johannesburg and with a population of 4.7 million — is riddled with coal mines, coal-fired power plants, petrochemical facilities, metal smelters, chemical producers, and other industrial complexes. Mnguni, in his work as a community campaigner for the environmental group groundWork, has met many others dealing with the health consequences of the poor air quality, ranging from asthma to lung cancer.

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