Environmental legislation and contamination: the gap between theory and reality in South Africa

J Environ Manage. 2010 Nov;91(11):2275-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2010.06.014.


Like many areas of its constitution, South Africa has progressive legislation to both prevent and clean up environmental contamination. However, recent research has highlighted a large gap between legislation and practice. This paper presents the context of the intent of environmental waste legislation in South Africa and highlights a case of mercury contamination in a rural area which illustrates the gap between the theory of legislation and the reality on the ground. Mercury contamination in humans poses well known health threats, yet despite attention from the media, non-governmental organisations and academic researchers, a major pollutant remains and contamination levels remain high, two decades after the original polluting incident took place.

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Environmental Policy / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Environmental Pollution / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Hazardous Waste / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Mercury
  • Refuse Disposal / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Rural Health
  • South Africa


  • Hazardous Waste
  • Mercury