Policy makers and the general public will now be able to access centralised air quality information through a system aimed at reducing pollution in the country, the department of environmental affairs said on Tuesday.
"This has a profound advantage in that as a country we can begin to assess whether air quality is improving and also identify areas where potential air pollution problems exist," the department said in a statement after Tuesday's launch of the South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS) at the South African Weather Service.
Chief Director of air quality and climate change at the department, Peter Lukey said the system would always contain the latest updated data of a location and can give the status of air quality or pollution according to the chosen day and time when checked on the website www.saaqis.org.za.
Air quality monitoring stations
Lukey said reporting stations would verify their data before feeding it directly into this web-based interactive air quality information system.
To date, 42 air quality monitoring stations are reporting to the SAAQIS. Most of these stations belong to networks such as the Mpumalanga province, Ethekwini municipality, the City of Johannesburg and the City of Tshwane.
The SAAQIS, which will also serve as a research portal for strengthening policy development related to air quality issues, was developed and tested for a period of three years to ensure its consistency.
Commending the existence of such a system, Lukey said in the past, policy-making in this area has been based largely on ad-hoc air quality information and was often without historical data to understand air quality trends and impacts.
Policy-making will for the first time be driven by air quality information which will make it possible for air pollution trends to be determined for each area being monitored, he said.
The department urged all stations to report its air quality data to the SAAQIS to ensure national data coverage to prevent health risks.
Expanding the project
"Plans were already in place to reach out to other networks with the intention of expanding the number of stations reporting to the SAAQIS. Consultations in this regard are ongoing," it said.
Now that the first phase of the project was complete, the second phase would commence in the 2010/11 financial year and would focus on the emissions inventories from sources such as industries, vehicles, households and other energy sources.
The third and last phase will focus on air pollution modelling which will enable real-time forecasting of air pollution similar to weather forecasting. – (Sapa, March 2010)