Power utility Eskom says it has temporarily closed the Camden power plant  in Mpumalanga because the dam where it stores the ash from burning coal could burst and endanger local residents.

The 1,600MW power plant will be closed for up to three months after a “review by a professional body”, Eskom said in a statement.

“The contractor concluded that the current dam has reached its maximum height and therefore it poses a safety risk to all personnel on site [and] neighbouring communities, and could also be a cause for environmental contravention,” the utility said.

The closure adds to the environmental challenges faced by the company, which produces almost all of SA’s power. Eskom also faces the potential partial closure of its Kendal power plant because it breaches pollution emission limits.

The coal-fired plant’s emissions of sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, are often a multiple of those recommended by the World Health Organisation, Cape Town-based Centre for Environmental Rights says, quoting studies it commissioned.

Power-plant pollution has been tied to complaints ranging from respiratory diseases to heart attacks and strokes.

The studies, by Andy Gray of San Rafael, California-based Gray Sky Solutions and Ranajit Sahu, an air-quality consultant from California, come as pressure mounts on state-owned Eskom to curb emissions from the coal-power plants.

Eskom was served with a compliance notice earlier in 2020 by the environment department, demanding it curb emissions from the 4,116MW Kendal plant or face its partial closure.

Of the plant’s six generating units two are operating within emissions limits, one is being repaired and is offline and three are exceeding the limits, Eskom said in a response to queries. The electrostatic precipitators, which use an electric charge to take particles out of the emissions, and dust handling plants were damaged during a strike in 2018, it said.

Full repairs of the units “can only be executed one after the other. Some of the work has already been executed,” Eskom said.

While “Eskom is committed to addressing the emissions issues at Kendal power station” shutting down units exceeding emission limits would compromise the company’s ability to meet national power demand, the utility said.