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dirty, dangerous and deceptive - sasoil pollutes poor communities in south africa

sasol, south africa

"Sasol pollutes the air we breathe, causing poor health and bad living conditions while making huge profits for the company. They fund a couple of community projects, thinking we will forget about the pollution. How can we forget when the pollution is making our parents, brothers, and sisters sick? Residents of Sasolburg are running out of patience with Sasol's arrogance. Sasol puts nothing of value into the community whilst taking away the very air that we breathe. Enough is enough.” Lerato Kasa, chairperson of the Sasolburg Environmental Committee.


“We put as much into the community as we do into our petrol.” This is an advert by the South African based multinational Sasol. Yes they do, including unacceptable levels of benzene, vinyl chloride and methylene chloride. Sasol’s annual reports admit to annual air pollution in Sasolburg, a town named after the company, amounting to over 42,000 tons of volatile organic compounds, 22,000 tons of hydrogen sulphide and 26,000 tons of sulphur dioxide.


In 2001, a fire at the Sasol and Total owned crude oil refinery resulted in the deaths of two workers. No action has been taken against company management. Indeed, the costs of Sasol’s operations and pollution are not borne by the company, but externalized onto the mostly poor black communities who pay with their health.


In the notoriously polluted South Durban industrial area, the Sasol polymers plant had three serious chlorine gas leaks during 2000 alone – in one instance resulting in the hospitalization of more than 200 people, most of them children from a nearby school. Sasol is among the world’s top fifty transnational chemical companies, with an operating profit of US$2.5 million per day. The company has partnerships with the French multinational Total and Dow Chemicals, among others.


Community groups have started mobilizing against Sasol’s air pollution, and the Sasolburg Environmental Committee (SEC) has been vocal in fighting pollution in their area. The SEC faces the challenge of countering Sasol’s propaganda, which blames domestic coal fires in local black neighbourhoods as the source of pollution.


Originally established by the government to counter international sanctions against apartheid, Sasol has been instrumental in pushing voluntary environmental agreements to delay and dilute any legally enforceable standards that polluted communities could use to hold them liable.  Groundwork/Friends of the Earth South Africa is campaigning to hold them accountable for their dirty and dangerous activities, which compromise human health and fuel global climate change.


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