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04 June 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Prof Cathryn Tonne
Air pollution not only costs lives, it costs money too. Pictured is Prof Cathryn Tonne presenting a guest lecture on air pollution at the Bloemfontein Campus.

Health effects associated with ambient air pollution (AAP) have been well documented. Subsequently, the relationship between pollution and financial outcomes have also become a focus for case studies globally. An Environmental Research journal article revealed that “low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the global burden of adverse health effects caused by AAP”. 

A high price to pay

In 2012, high concentrations of air pollution caused 7.4% of all deaths, costing South Africa up to 6% of its Gross Domestic Product. According to the recent International Growth Centre study conducted by senior University of Cape Town researchers, this is a direct consequence of the country’s heavy dependence of fossil fuels, a source of health-damaging air pollution and greenhouse pollutants.

Stunted human and economic growth

These South African statistics are attested to by Prof Cathryn Tonne who recently presented a guest lecture on air pollution which was hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) Business School.

“Air pollution can affect economic development through several pathways, and health is an important one. Air pollution is linked to shorter life expectancy, chronic disease, asthma exacerbation and many other health outcomes that result in absenteeism from work and school. These have large direct costs to the health system.” 

Prof Tonne says that air pollution exposure in children is linked to reduced cognitive development, with important impacts on human capital. As a result, children are not reaching their full potential in terms of neurodevelopment, which has an effect on their income prospects and the economy as a whole. 

Resolving a looming disaster

Technology may be employed to radically clean the air. Cities need to lead in the reduction of air pollution by promoting renewable energy, using active transport such as walking or cycling, and investing in infrastructure to make this safe and attractive. 

With researchers playing a major role in strengthening the case for aggressive air pollution control, the government needs to implement policies in order to control sources of air pollution. This global health and economic issue also requires individuals and communities to play their part to improve air quality.

News Archive

Tiny microbes may solve large problems of water contamination, says Prof Esta van Heerden
2014-12-08

Small solutions for big problems

According to Prof Esta van Heerden, professor in the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology at the University of the Free State (UFS), this might hold some truth in current terms of water treatment strategies for waste and industrial effluents.

“There is little doubt in popular literature that eminent water crises are looming, not only with respect to the supply, but quality and effectiveness of various treatment options as well. The UFS’s Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology is partnering with the Technology Innovation Agency to evaluate water treatment technologies that are applied worldwide and to extend these new or adapted options to innovative and interested clients in South Africa,” says Prof Van Heerden.

“The research focuses on using extreme microbes to tackle big contaminations and the results are amazing,” says Prof Van Heerden.

These microbes are fast becoming the stars on sites and developing these exciting systems allows for greener treatment options. It is fascinating that they can deal with metals, including chromium and uranium, cyanide, petroleum and diesel.

Of utmost importance is the development of a treatment for acid mine drainage.

“Interests have been overwhelming and thus far partners have allowed pilot scale development on their sites with very promising results. These initiatives are driven by responsible partners who strive to be innovative and develop sustainable technologies for good quality water that can be released in the environment,” Prof Van Heerden says.

The research group has set up a pipeline to serve the water communities’ needs. It provides an accessible toolkit for water analysis. A tailor-made treatment option is also developed and showcased in the laboratories. It has the added benefit that Geosyntec Consultants, USA, will ensure faster roll-out by sharing their vast experience on any related aspects.

 

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