The task force looking into reports of a sulphurous odour over areas of Gauteng and the North West on June 7, 2022, has concluded that a mix of weather conditions and industrial emissions were likely to blame for the odour.
The task team is made up of representatives from the provincial ministries in Mpumalanga, Gauteng, the North West, and the Free State as well as the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment.
The sulphur smell may have been caused by industry operations in the Secunda and Mpumalanga regions and as a result of unusual air circulation patterns that saw the smell being blown over Gauteng and parts of the North West during the week of June 5 to 12, 2022, according to the task team’s interim internal report, which was delivered to Minister of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment Barbara Creecy.
The task force is still conducting investigations to see if there was an industrial emergency that might have contributed to the offensive odour that many people had noticed, as well as to see what effect the current meteorological conditions might have had.
At this point, the preliminary findings indicate that during the days when the general population complained about the strong sulphurous odour, a low-pressure system in the north of the Mozambique channel generated a rather unique circulation pattern over the area.
Due to these circumstances, air pollution from Mpumalanga may have been carried into Gauteng and the North West, particularly over the cities of Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Pretoria.
The South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS) reports ambient sulphur dioxide monitoring observations indicating, notwithstanding industry compliance with air quality requirements in Gauteng and Mpumalanga over the relevant time, ambient levels were higher than typical.
The preliminary investigation shows that none of the facilities in Mpumalanga, North West, Gauteng, or the Free State reported any emergency incidents (upset conditions, start-ups, or shut-downs) with the potential to release significant amounts of sulphur dioxide and/or hydrogen sulphide during the week of June 7–12, 2022.
Some of the public complaints about the sulphurous odour were related to events that occurred at the time when sulphur dioxide levels were higher than usual. Though it seemed unlikely that the elevated readings had any negative health effects on the residents nearby.
In order to enhance the management of sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide emission sources beyond the responses brought on by public complaints, the Task Team is tasked with researching and making recommendations for potential policy interventions to further reduce hydrogen sulphide pollution and address concerns regarding public safety and the potential long-term health effects of exposure.
As part of the ongoing inquiry, industries from areas where hydrogen sulphide is an issue will be contacted to talk about the short- and long-term management of sulphurous odorants.