Cape Town air amongst the worst
Cape Town ranks along with Witbank and Limpopo's coalfields as having among the most polluted air in the country, according to speakers at a CSIR seminar last week.
An aircraft descends over morning smog in Cape Town.
The audience heard air quality, measured at 76 monitoring stations across the country and measuring pollution in terms of certain criteria, exceeded the World Health Organisation's safety limits for aerosols.
Aerosols - small airborne particles - are the single biggest air pollution health risk and can lead to respiratory complaints such as asthma or may even result in death.
Most aerosols came from burning coal, according to North-West University climatologist Professor Stuart Piketh.
In Cape Town the main sources of visible air pollution are vehicle emissions, industry and wood-burning, according to Lungiswa James, the mayoral committee member for health.
Mountain fires in the region have also contributed to the pollution episodes.
In townships, which were listed as areas having the worst air pollution, the main sources were from wood burning for cooking and heating.
Other sources include windblown dust from unpaved areas, vehicle exhaust emissions and the burning of waste.
James said: "It is important for residents to realise that we can make a difference by maintaining vehicles in good running order by servicing them regularly; by car pooling and using public transport where possible."
Controlling wood burning in townships was difficult because of socio-economic issues.
"And this is exacerbated by the increasing electricity prices and the fact that the only source of income for many households is through informal trading in braaied meat."
The National Environment Management Air Quality Act provides for fines of up to R5 million or jail terms of up to five years for certain pollution offences.
One of the biggest pollution fines - of R3m - was imposed on Witbank's Silicon Smelters late last year for unlawful gas emissions.
The city health department has called on people to report badly smoking diesel vehicles and other severe pollution offenders to the Air Quality Management Offices at 021 590 1419.