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Sep. 8 (GIN) – Environmental activists at Greenpeace Africa have launched a global campaign to block efforts by Eskom, South Africa’s public power utility, to release more polluting coal dust in the air. The dust has been linked to an uptick in premature deaths now estimated at 2,700 every year.

Greenpeace is pushing its campaign in the wake of an application by Eskom to postpone compliance with new minimum emissions standards aimed at reducing the damaging health impacts of air pollution.

The new standards will impact the north-eastern Mpumalanga Province where 12 coal-fired power plants are clustered on the western high-altitude side of the province known as the Highveld.

Eskom responded by casting blame on local area residents. "It is well established that the brunt of poor air quality in South Africa are borne by people who burn coal and wood in their homes for cooking and heating,” they wrote. “The best way of improving this poor air quality is through the provision of affordable electricity."

However, a July 2014 report by local environmental justice NGO groundWork, found that health risks related to outdoor air pollution resulting from Eskom's emissions were three times higher than those associated with burning coal indoors.

"The poor disproportionately bear the burden of environmental exposure and yet are least able to mitigate the impacts," said Rico Euripidou, groundWork's environmental health campaign manager, adding that his organization agreed with Greenpeace's figures on premature deaths caused by emissions. "If anything, they're an under-estimate."

“Soot pollution—a by-product from burning fossil fuels that results in small particles in the air composed of a mixture of metals, chemicals, and acid droplets—is one of the deadliest and most dangerous air pollutants,” notes the green advocate Sierra Club.

“The smallest soot particles are less than one-thirtieth the width of a human hair. Because of their minuscule size, this fine particulate matter can travel deep into our lungs and even enter the bloodstream.”

Coal-fired plants placed in Africa got a boost this summer from World Bank President Jim Yong Kim who used the term “energy apartheid” to describe how two-thirds of the continent lack access to power. “We are very sensitive to the idea that Africa deserves to have power,” Kim said.

The Bank will “try to avoid” investing in coal, Kim said, “but at the same time, we’ve got to respect the Africans’ demand for access to power.”

Meanwhile, the Medupi power station, fiercely opposed by an international coalition of grassroots, church and environmental activists, appears to have been built on the graves of fourteen families. The families say that they were never properly consulted about the project, in a language which they were comfortable with, when construction started seven years ago.

Barring any new delays, the Medupi $3.75 billion power station in Lephalale, Limpopo, is expected to go live next June.

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