Vaal Triangle Air Pollution

Mar 28, 2009

Mission: Survey the Extent of Air Pollution over the Vaal Triangle
Date: 28 March 2009
Requesting organisation: groundWork
Location: Vaal Triangle
Pilot: Avroy Shlain

Report by pilot and director Avroy Shlain
Report from Bobby Peek of groundWork

Report by pilot and director Avroy Shlain

During March we were asked to fly Bobby Peek of groundWork, an environmental justice NGO based in Pietermaritzburg, together with a representative of the Sigrid Rausing Trust, to survey the extent of air pollution over the Vaal Triangle.  Bateleurs pilot and director, Avroy Shlain, volunteered for this mission and provided this short post-flight report: 

“If pilots could design weather we would always get what we woke up to on Saturday morning 28th March  –  not a cloud in the very blue sky and a temperature that floated between 23 and 25C.

Scheduled for an 08h30 (local time) take off from Lanseria, I left Sandton at 07h15, stopping en route to pick up some Cokes, water and Lunch Bars as we were to be on the go for a few hours. The traffic was remarkably mild and I arrived ahead of schedule so took the time to get my permit to drive to the hangar and right up to the plane. (I knew that my passengers would have a lot of luggage with them and this would make loading a lot easier.)  Back at the terminal at precisely 08h00 and everyone was on time and we made our way directly to the C182T parked outside the Comair hangars.

With the windscreen cleaned, fuel loaded and pre-flight completed, we left minutes after 08h30 and headed directly to Carltonville, circling over a variety of mines and dumps. With the sun coming up from the east we planned our flyovers so that we had really good lighting over the “bad spots”.  Our route had been explained to me some days before, and this took us over Everton, Vanderbijl, Sasolburg, and ultimately Vereeniging, where I dropped off my two passengers who planned to continue their survey at ground level.

Alternating the photographs with the light behind us, we circled the massive industries in this area and took many photos into the sun, highlighting the ghastly volume of pollution, and making the point to our international visitor – Theodorous Chronopoulos of the Sigrid Rausing Trust.  In addition to physically seeing the problems, up at 5 and 6,000ft one could really smell the facilities we were flying over.

While my passengers claimed to have seen what they had come for, it was interesting for me to hear these two professionals talk about their findings! The enormous effect that the “dumping” of toxic and other waste has had on both ground and surface water is horrifying.  Hopefully the assistance that The Bateleurs has given groundWork will assist these good people to influence the right authority so that these industries are made to clean up their act.”


Report from Bobby Peek of groundWork

From the left:  Theodoros Chronopoulos, Avroy Shlain (pilot) and Bobby Peek.

“On March the 28th, I was fortunate to share a memorable two hour journey with Avroy Shlain, Bateleurs pilot and director, who flew me and Theodoros Chronopoulos of the Sigrid Rausing Trust over the Vaal Triangle, to give us the experience of being above the smells and dust rather than in between.  Well, that is what I thought … !

As we flew over the industrial hub of Sasol I was amazed to recognise the same smell that is found between the fences of Sasol and in Zamdela, the local township downwind of Sasol. This confirmed what we forced Sasol to admit, publicly, in 2000 – that its operations pollute the neighbourhoods of Sasolburg.  In 2000, Sasol did a flyover air pollution sampling process and they picked up high levels of sulphur and volatile organic compounds, confirming the validity of the air sampling performed by the communities in the area.

Over ArcelorMittal, despite the fact that it is operating well below capacity, the haze of dust pollution was immediately evident.   Alarmingly, alongside ArcelorMittal, I saw for the first time the large expanse of toxic waste that they have been storing – for decades.  It is often spoken about but its magnitude can only be appreciated from above.

I was to witness even more of a visually devastating effect on the landscape as we passed over and around the Eskom power plant east of Vanderbijlpark.  The land was scarred from past coal mining and present coal storage areas and toxic waste ash dumpsites.  The ‘power’ of Eskom is oh so evident when you realise that it does whatever it wants, without any checks or balances.  Our government has no control over Eskom.

We were also flown over the West Rand and the gold mines and gold dumps around Carltonville.  These mine dumps are all so well constructed that they look like large swimming pools which could provide some relief from the intense heat of the Vaal summer.  But what these mine dumps actually bring is unseen groundwater pollution.  This includes radio-active contamination and intense dust pollution containing toxic chemicals – highly dangerous when the dry winter winds blow in this part of the world.

It all looked so calm from above, yet the reality on the ground speaks differently.  Just speak to the local people who endure this industrial experience day in and day out!  groundWork would like to thank The Bateleurs and especially Avroy Shlain who made this flight possible for us.”


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