Monitoring sulphur dioxide emissions

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Laws and regulations have been introduced in Zambia to manage environmental effects of industrial activities such as copper mining. This is a research project proposal to conduct an evaluation of copper mining companies' compliance with environmental regulations governing sulphur dioxide [SO2] emissions; considered a major pollutant inimical to the environment and human health. Primary and secondary approaches to data collection and analysis will be applied in this study, implemented over 6 months with a budget of £10,000. Trend analysis of data will be used to inform environmental remediation efforts in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia.

Keywords: SO2 emissions, monitoring, regulations, trends


The United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP] identified air pollution, soil degradation, wildlife conservation and water pollution/sanitation as the main environmental issues for Zambia (Dymond et al., 2007).

The mineral mining sector compounds environmental issues in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia. The relationship between mining and environmental problems is very complex because copper mining is the main source of revenue and is the largest employer of the Zambian workforce. Zambia is the world market's eleventh largest supplier of copper (World Bank Group, 1998). However the population on the Copperbelt are living under very unhealthy circumstances caused by mining pollutants (Feneey, 2001).

The environmental effects of copper mining include acid rain and dry deposition, leading to vegetative loss. Suspended solids in acidic wastewater change soil chemical composition and reduce the suitability of the land for farming. (Dymond et al., 2007). Health effects include breathing difficulties and chronic respiratory illnesses resulting from particulate matter (Emberson, 2003). This study, however, will only concentrate on the monitoring of SO2 emissions.

Literature Review

Depending on the extraction process, copper mining produces between 4- 2X 103 kg SO2 [10 3 kg]-1 of copper (World Bank, 1998). Zambia is considered the least emission-efficient country in the world (Stern, 2004) which suggests a strong relationship between copper production and SO2.

Scientific evidence suggests that copper mining results in high emissions that are inimical to the environment. For example, SO2, a major emission of copper mining activity; is one of the main components of acid rain which affects vegetation, and can lead to acidification especially of fresh water bodies (Krebs, 2001).

Consequently standards have been set up in countries such as the United States of America [0.03 ppm/ 80 ug m-3] (UN Habitat/ UNEP, 2010) and United Kingdom [350 ug m-3 in one hour no more than 24 times a year and the 24-hour mean should not exceed 125 ug m-3 more than three times a year with a 150 ug m-3 threshold] (AEA Energy & Environment, 2008; cited by Defra, 2009).

In the early 1990s, the Government of Zambia introduced environmental management legislation. The air pollution standards for SO2 are 125 ug m-3 for 24-hour mean, 350 ug m-3 for one hour and 500 ug m-3for ten minutes (ECZ, 2009).

Copper mining companies are expected to comply with national standards and are self-regulatory in Zambia. However, there is increasing evidence of lack of publicly available information on these companies' compliance with regulations (Dymond et al., 2007).

Against this background, the central question is how some copper producing countries are fairing with environmental standards.

United States of America [USA]

New Mexico was chosen as a comparator for purposes of this study. Data was obtained from the New Mexico Environment Department. The infrastructure for environmental reporting is adequate for a critical analysis.


Data was compiled from various sources. Based on this data, Figure 4 below shows the time series of SO2 emission and copper production in Zambia between 1991 and 2006.

There was no data from an individual source for Zambia to enable a sound critical analysis of emissions from the copper mining industry. According to Feeney (2001), Zambia does not currently generate the appropriate data to assess whether or not there is compliance with existing statutory thresholds.

This suggests the need for more robust environmental monitoring systems for effective analysis to guide remediation efforts.

Problem Definition

Environmental management has many challenges in Zambia. Chief among these is a dearth of data on the toxic emissions from the copper mines and the difficulty in enforcement of regulations governing the industry (Dymond et al., 2007). Although the mining companies have self-regulatory systems, (ZCCM-IH, 2009) data is unavailable publicly. This makes robust audit of emissions difficult for interested parties.


The study aims to assess the current levels of SO2 emissions in the ambient air around Kalulushi town and compare them against, existing data collected by the Copperbelt Environment Programme if available; as well as current regulatory limits/standards.

The null hypotheses of the study are: -

  1. SO2 not affected by the level of copper production
  2. Current mining emissions are not above the local regulations


The justification for this study is that SO2 is a major air pollutant, which affects the environment as well as humans. Although environmental laws have been introduced in Zambia, data on monitoring systems is scant. This makes it difficult to monitor the current emissions levels of the copper mines in Zambia (Dymond et al., 2007). Using Kalulushi town as a case study, it is hoped that this research will pioneer the establishment of an effective environmental monitoring infrastructure in Zambia.

Research Design

Research Sites

For purposes of this study, Chibuluma Mines PLC a copper-cobalt mine near Kalulushi town of the Copperbelt Province of Zambia will be used. This location was selected as it is one of the smaller mining sites in the Copperbelt.


In order to answer the questions outlined above, several approaches to data collection and analysis will be used. These will include analysis of existing secondary data for the SO2 emissions as well as primary data.

A desk study will be conducted to review existing legislation and regulation governing the mining industry in Zambia at the Environment Council of Zambia [ECZ] and Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources [MTENR]. At least 3 years of existing emissions data will also be reviewed to establish the trends of the emissions at the site.

Data Collection

A sonic anemometer will be used to establish the predominant wind direction [down-wind of the mine where sampler will be set up]; a GPS will be used to map sampling points. Primary data on S02 emissions will be collected using an automatic sampler. Data will be logged every 10 minutes using an interface laptop.

The study will collect primary data for 2 months, as recommended by Ghose (2007).

Data Analysis

Data will be analysed using Microsoft Excel 2007. The dependent variable is the levels of SO2 emissions while copper production will be independent variable.

Expected Outcomes of the Project

Data from this research will form the first step towards setting up an independent and effective mining emissions monitoring database for the Copperbelt.

It is also hoped that the findings of this research will compel various stakeholders' efforts to limit the damage caused to the environment by mining activities by encouraging transparency of reporting emission levels (CEP, 2009).

Activity Time Frame

The project should be completed in six months as shown in Table I below.


The major limitation of the study is that it will be completed in six months suggesting that the yearly standards/targets cannot be measured. Non-availability of baseline data limited a solid literature review for the current levels of copper mining emissions in Zambia. This problem may also be encountered during the study.


Data from the USA shows a strong positive relationship between copper production and SO2 emission. However; data from Zambia shows a weak relationship, but there is lack of data to perform critical analysis and effective audit by interested parties. This lack of data justifies the need for the research project.


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