Dead mines, dead land

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) –┬ápartnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems
25 January 2010

Once all the coal has been mined from Mpumalanga’s highveld region the area will become a “total wasteland”, leading environmental experts have warned.

So says a Wits University School of Geosciences professor, Terence McCarthy, in a paper to be published later this year. McCarthy, a geologist who late last year studied the effect on the environment of coal mines in and around Witbank, found that once coal reserves were exhausted:

According to Dr Anthony Turton the Witbank Dam is so acidic (pH3) that the water cannot be used for anything. Photo:

All mines will be flooded and will leak water polluted with acids, heavy salts and metals;
Rivers in the area will run dry, and both river and ground water will become undrinkable;
Aquatic life will become minimal and only very hardy aquatic life will survive;
Extensive areas of the region will become devoid of vegetation because of acidification of the soil, setting in motion severe erosion which will strip the soil cover and choke up rivers and dams;
Emerging problems include soil sterilisation, but by far the most severe problem is water pollution, which is worsening.

As dramatic and emotive as this might sound, McCarthy’s paper says government and mining companies are doing little or nothing to mitigate the effects coal mining has had on the environment.

McCarthy predicts that all this will happen in the next hundred years. But Prof Anthony Turton, of the University of Free State’s Centre for Environmental Management, believes it will take less than that. “Certainly in our lifetime. We can take you to areas that have been totally destroyed,” Turton said.

Last year Turton was suspended by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research after he sounded alarm bells on an impending water crisis in South Africa. He later resigned.

Source: Times Live

A research think-tank, The Bench Mark Foundation, found that South Africa has 34billion tons of coal that can be mined. Based on current consumption, the country will have almost no coal remaining by 2040, the foundation said in a research paper.With the department of mineral resources continually issuing prospecting and mining licences, Wonderfontein, Mpumalanga, environmentalist Koos Pretorius said the devastation of which McCarthy speaks will happen even sooner. “Currently, there are about 60 active coal mines in Witbank,” he said.The department, he said, was considering a further 400 mining applications and over 5000 for prospecting in the Free State and Mpumalanga. Pretorius said the mines were already wreaking havoc with water in the region. “The Middelburg Dam is so polluted that, 40% of the time, the water is not fit to be processed for human consumption,” he said.Turton said the Witbank Dam was so polluted that it recently scored the highest level of acidity ever recorded in a South African dam or river. “I think the pH [acidity] was about three. It was so acidic – that’s battery acid. “You can’t use that water for anything,” he said.

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