A court in South Africa has confirmed the constitutional right of the country’s citizens to an environment that isn’t harmful to their health. This includes the right to clean air, as exposure to air pollution affects human health. Air pollution also affects land and water systems, and decreases agricultural yields.
The case, referred to as the “Deadly Air” case, was brought against the government by two environmental justice groups – groundWork and the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action. They were represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights. The case concerned air pollution in the Highveld Priority Area. The area includes one of South Africa’s largest cities, Ekurhuleni, and a large portion of the Mpumalanga province.
Air pollution levels in the area are often over the legal thresholds specified in the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. These standards are set to protect health. Exceeding the threshold therefore indicates a health risk. There have been some small improvements in air quality in the area, but not enough to ensure that it’s in compliance with the established standards.