Posted on: January 14, 2009 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

South Africa. Power utility Eskom, who had earlier announced plans to operate wind turbines to boost electricity supplies, have come under fire for polluting the environment.

Experts say Eskom needs more green initiatives. Greenhouse gases are not the only pollution black mark against Eskom’s power stations. The stations also pump tons of mercury into the air, making South Africa one of the world’s worst offenders for pollution by the toxic heavy metal.

Mercury poisoning can lead to loss of intelligence.

South Africa ranks seventh as a source of atmospheric mercury and some of this ends up in seafood and can affect brain development in children. This is according to a Polish expert who is helping the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) assess the problem.

Jozef Pacyna, a scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Air Research, said South Africa was estimated to produce 40 tons of gaseous mercury annually. Most of this is from burning coal. This must be compared with the global total of 1535t.

Mercury occurs naturally in coal and is released into the air when the coal burns. Once the mercury lands on earth or in water, some of it is converted into a highly toxic form, methylmercury, which readily finds its way into the food chain.

“One of the major impacts that mercury has on human health is its neuro-toxic effect – the loss of intelligence,” Pacyna said. ” So children who are exposed to high levels of mercury, mostly through eating seafood, are in a position where they might be lagging behind other children at school.”

The department of environmental affairs and tourism said it was not convinced that any action was needed .

Eskom spokesman Fani Zulu said the utility had focused on particulate pollution from its power stations since the early 1980s and “significant reductions” had been achieved. He said the new Medupi and Kusile power stations would have state-of-the-art scrubbers to reduce sulphur dioxide and particulate emissions.

Source: The Times
By: Anton Ferreira
Posted: 6 January 2009

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