CAPE TOWN, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- South Africa's Mpumalanga Province has been listed as the global number one hotspot for NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) emissions, according to satellite data released on Monday.
Analysis of the data points to coal and transport as the two principle sources of air pollution, with Mpumalanga in South Africa topping the chart as the world's largest NO2 hotspot across six continents, environmental group Greenpeace said in a report emailed to Xinhua.
The data, which was gathered from June 1 to Aug. 31 this year, reveals the world's largest NO2 air pollution hotspots across six continents in the most detail to date, Greenpeace said.
NO2, a dangerous pollutant, contributes to the formation of PM2.5 and ozone, two of the most dangerous forms of air pollution.
This finding confirms that South Africa has the most polluting cluster of coal-fired power stations in the world, which "is both disturbing and very scary," said Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Africa Melita Steele.
Mpumalanga is home to a cluster of 12 coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of over 32 gigawatts owned and operated by state-run electricity utility Eskom.
The satellite data further reveals that the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria are also highly affected by extreme NO2 pollution levels which blow across from Mpumalanga and into both cities due to close proximity and regular east winds, the report said.
This means that plumes of dangerous NO2 pollution regularly cover these cities and their 8 million people, said the report.
"Because South Africa's coal-belts are hidden from view for the majority of South Africans, it can be easy to pretend that they don't actually exist," Steele said.
The reality is that coal extraction and burning has devastating impacts on the people living in the area, he added.
The list of the largest NO2 hotspots in the world includes well-known coal-fired power plants in South Africa, Germany and India. Cities such as Santiago of Chile, London, Paris, Dubai and Tehran also feature high in the ranking due to transport-related emissions.
"Air pollution is a global health crisis, with up to 95 percent of the world's population breathing unsafe air," Steele said.
South Africa is a significant global hotspot with its high concentration of coal power stations and its weak air pollution standards, she said.
Compared with many other countries, South Africa has relatively weak Minimum Emission Standards (MES), which allow coal-fired power stations to emit up to 10 times more NO2 than allowed in China or Japan, Steele said.
The South African government urgently needs to come up with an action plan that protects millions of people, instead of dirty coal power stations, she said.