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Task team investigates sulphur-like smell in Ekurhuleni

A task team of environmental and air quality officials released an interim internal report which reflects that the sulphur smell that recently plagued large parts of Gauteng may have emanated from industry operations in Secunda and surrounds.

The sulphurous smell which recently plagued large parts of Gauteng may have been caused by a combination of weather events and industry operations.

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The task team investigating complaints of a stench experienced over parts of Gauteng on June 7 comprised of environmental and air quality officials from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and provincial departments in Mpumalanga, Gauteng, North West and the Free State.

The task team’s interim internal report reflects that the sulphur smell may have emanated from industry operations in the Secunda and surrounds.

As a result of unusual air circulation patterns, the smell was blown over Gauteng and parts of the North West during the week of June 5 to 12.

The task team’s investigations are ongoing and seek to determine whether there was an industrial emergency that could have contributed to the malodourous smell that many people had detected.

The team will also determine the possible role that the prevailing meteorological conditions could have played in this regard.

Interim investigations show that a low-pressure system in the north of the Mozambique channel caused a relatively unusual circulation pattern over the region during the days on which the public raised complaints about the strong sulphurous odour.

These conditions may have created prevailing south-easterly winds that transported air pollution from Mpumalanga into Gauteng and the North West, particularly over Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg and Pretoria.

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Ambient air quality monitoring observations reflected on the South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS) show that despite industry complying with air quality standards in Gauteng and Mpumalanga, ambient levels of sulphur dioxide were higher than usual during the period in question.

The interim investigation also reflected that no emergency incident were reported by any facilities in Mpumalanga, North West, Gauteng and the Free State with the potential to release large quantities of sulphur dioxide and/or hydrogen sulphide during the week in question.

Some of the public complaints about the sulphurous odour coincided with incidents when sulphur dioxide was higher than usual during the period in question.

However, according to DFFE the elevated readings were unlikely to have caused any health effects on the surrounding communities.

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The task team will investigate and recommend possible policy interventions to further reduce hydrogen sulphide pollution and address concerns around public safety and the possible long-term health effects.

The ongoing investigation will include engaging with industries from identified areas where hydrogen sulphide is of concern, to discuss short-term and long-term management of sulphurous odorants.


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