Last updated on Jan 15th, 2021 at 03:52 pm

If you live or work in an urban area, at some point you may encounter an air pollution incident.

Many Cape Town residents witness one on Thursday, 19 July 2012, when an ominous cloud of black smoke billowed out of the Caltex oil refinery in Table View.

Concerned citizens took photos, posting them on social networking sites, while others called local radio stations effecting drawing media attention to the incident.

The response from the City of Cape Town disaster management team was swift – they notified the public that black smoke was a result of the refinery shut down due to a malfunction. It was promised that the pollution division, under the Department of Health, would investigate and verify the quantities of smoke. Those who witnessed the air pollution incident await those results and I’m sure many would like to know what they were exposed to.

How to protect yourself

The incident raised some questions like, ‘What are you supposed to do when encountering an air pollution incident?’ and ‘how can you protect yourself?’

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First, protect yourself and your family. If you’re in a car, close the windows and air vents in order limit your exposure to the air pollution. Similarly, close windows and cover air vents at home or in the office. The best course of action may be to leave the affected area for a few hours if possible. But before you leave, take a photo of the air pollution incident (if it’s visible) so that you can report it formally.

Report air quality related incidents

You can report air quality related incidents via South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS) online at

By reporting air quality incidents, you help ensure that authorities are held accountable for environmental assessments and public feedback. SAAQIS promise that if you fill in your email address, your report will be forwarded to a relevant department and you will receive a reference number for your query.