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Iron & Steel

Sector overview

In ‘An Overview of the South African Iron, Manganese and Steel Industry during the period 1984 – 2003’, published by the Department of Minerals and Energy in 2005, it was reported that the South African steel industry accounts for 1% of world production and that South Africa is the 19th largest steel producer in the world.1 More recent data from the World Steel Association places South Africa in 21st place in terms of crude steel production and attributes 0.4% of world production to South African manufacturers.2

Steel production gives rise to significant air, water and land pollution. The manufacturing process employed in the iron and steel industry can result in the release of large quantities of emissions, some highly toxic. These include particulate emissions, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, organic compounds and carbonaceous compounds. Atmospheric pollution is also contributed to by the dust produced from sources such as vehicle traffic.3

The process can also result in water pollution:

Steel works discharge large volumes of water to lakes, rivers and streams, with additional volumes being vaporized while cooling coke or steel. Waste water retained in unsealed or leaking holding ponds can seep through and may contaminate the local water table and underground streams. These may also be contaminated by the leaching of rainwater through piles of raw materials or accumulations of solid wastes. Contaminants include suspended solids, heavy metals and oils and greases. Temperature changes in natural waters due to discharge of higher temperature process water (70% of steel-making process water is used for cooling) may affect the ecosystems of these waters.4

Without sufficient safeguards, the steel and iron industry can have severely damaging environmental impacts, resulting in harm to the health of those living near to manufacturing operations. A study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health proved that air pollutant levels were higher near a steel plant than at a site 5 kilometres away and furthermore suggested that the air quality in areas near a steel plant may influence cardiovascular physiology.5

A 2007 news report recorded the following statement made by the DEA in relation to the inspections of companies in the iron and steel and ferroalloy sector:

Although we expected to find some non-compliance at the sites we have inspected thus far, we are taken aback at the levels of non-compliance we are identifying in the iron and steel and ferroalloy industry sector.

Many of the operating companies are extremely profitable multinationals who have access to all the information and resources they require to come into compliance with environmental legislation.

However, it appears that they have chosen to disregard their obligations to the law and the environment and people affected by their operations.6

Primary Legislation

National Environmental Management Act
National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act
National Environmental Management: Waste Act
National Water Act
Environment Conservation Act

Pursuant to these pieces of legislation, companies are required to have licences relating to the relevant activities under the Acts. Minimum emission standards were published in Government Notice No. 248 in 2010.7 Licences granted to companies under the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act must at least incorporate these standards and deadlines were introduced for meeting those standards.

  1. at p18.
  2. (last accessed on 7 August 2015).
  3. ‘Control of Pollution in the Iron and Steel Industry’ by D.L. Doushanov, at p1-2, in Pollution Control Technologies, Vol. III, ed. Bhaskar Nath and Georgi Stefanov Cholakov.
  4. International Labour Organisation, Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, Environmental and Public Health Issues, Iron and Steel, at (last accessed on 7 August 2015).
  5. Liu, L., et al., Exposure to air pollution near a steel plant and effects on cardiovascular physiology: A randomized crossover study. Int. J. Hyg. Environ. Health (2013), at p7
  6. (last accessed on 7 August 2015).


Licences and authorisations

View a summary of licences and authorisations required in order to operate lawfully in the Iron & Steel sector.