Air Quality Act: are you compliant?

Air Quality Act: are you compliant?

The Chemical and Allied Industries’ Association recently (CAIA) held an important and informative workshop during June on the new Air Quality Act.

The National Environment Management Air Quality Act (NEMAQA) was passed in 2005 to legislate and standardise the quality of air within the Republic of South Africa in accordance with international best practice. The objective of the CAIA workshop was to present the attendees, many already familiar with the Act, with different perspectives of various guest speakers.

The workshop formed part of the CAIA Responsible Care Initiative.

Following a transitional phase from 2005 to 2010 (allowing for the development of air quality management tools, Listed Activities and associated minimum emission standards, capacity building and skills development for new licensing authorities), the AQA officially replaced the old APPA on 1 April 2010. According to Dr Gregory Scott, special advisor for industrial process engineering at the Department of Environmental Affairs, the major difference in the legislation is the move from a source-based approach to an effects-based approach.

The AQA is far reaching, and it was necessary for the various speakers to be diverse in their presentations. Some of them were there to “speak from experience” – SHEQ managers or specialists who are directly responsible for making sure that their companies comply with the Act, while others were representatives of local and national government sharing their perspectives.

There are many benefits associated with the implementation of the AQA. According to Edmund van Wyk, assistant chief of air quality management at Ekurhuleni, these include the regulation of both non- and industrial sources, the integration of new requirements into air quality management planning processes, opening doors for market incentives and emissions trading as well as meeting emission limits leading to acceptable air quality and a more comprehensive regulatory environment (therefore leading to less uncertainty).

However, he cautions that industries will need to do their homework. They must know the impact of their operations and how to manage these cost-effectively. Research and development, he recommends, must be extended to routinely include research into cleaner technologies and production processes.

As environmental manager at Impala Platinum, Carina Burger pointed out, proper air quality management includes a well-developed monitoring plan.   These monitoring processes could be continuous and are resource intensive, encompassing many factors and generally requiring specialised equipment.  She too recommends that industry players be proactive in their approach to comply with the Act and employ monitoring equipment to assist in the assessment towards compliance.

But how does the Act actually impact on industries? Ristoff van Zyl, senior specialist SHE: environment – air quality and climate change at Sasol, says it makes use of Listed Activities and Minimum Emission Standards. Listed Activities are activities that result in atmospheric emissions that are believed to have a significant detrimental effect on the health of people and the environment in general. These activities are determined by the Minister (National) and/or MEC (Local), according to the Act.

Minimum Emission Standards are the highest emission standard at which a Listed Activity will be allowed to operate. This is determined through the SABS standard setting process, in which the CAIA and its members were participants. Van Zyl points out that this took almost two years to complete, and is reviewed every five years. According to the Act, no-one is allowed to operate a Listed Activity without an Atmospheric Emission Licence. To determine whether a plant is carrying out a Listed Activity it is required to compare its various processes with each definition in the Listed Activities. Should a definition match the process operating on the plant, the plant operates a Listed Activity and it must then be in possession of an Atmospheric Emission Licence indicating the specific Listed Activity(s) operated on the facility. Not only must the plant be in possession of an Atmospheric Emission Licence, it must also comply with the conditions within the licence to comply with NEMAQA.

Compliance monitoring will need to be done according to specific requirements by accredited laboratories, and the Licensing Authority will require at least annual compliance reporting, says van Zyl. In a stepped approach, existing plants must meet existing plant standards by 1 April 2015, and new plant standards by 1 April 2020.

CAIA Responsible Care manager Louise Lindeque also gave an overview of the South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS). This is a valuable online portal developed by the Department of Environmental Affairs and the South African Weather Service to facilitate air quality information management and provide access to all air quality data, documents and Licensing Authority contact details.

It was pointed out at the workshop that air quality management is increasingly becoming part of integrated business management, planning and strategy. The valuable, first-hand information passed on by all speakers highlighted this, but more importantly, showed the great strides in improving air quality from national government level, right down to the individual sites concerned.

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