Johannesburg farms at risk from tailings dams

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 08 December 2010

Tailings Dams are holding millions of tonnes of dangerous metals and leading to severe damage to farms in the Johannesburg area.

Gold mines constitute the largest single source of waste and pollution in South Africa

That’s according to Mariette Liefferink, from the Federation for a Sustainable Environment who showed Business Day around the West Rand and outlined some of the major environmental challenges.

Liefferink says acid mine drainage is exacerbating the problem, because it dissolves the heavy metals and precipitated them in water sources and wetlands, where people grow crops and abstract water.

She says the Lancaster dam in Krugersdorp, which is surrounded by tailings dams, is the source of the Wonderfonteinspruit.

The stream is now filled with acid mine water and its wetlands had been classified as the radiological hotspot by the by the Nuclear Regulator.

“Lancaster dam historically was indeed the source of the most pristine water. It was classified by a 1934 German documentary as one of the seven wonders of South Africa. Today as you can see it is filled with acid water. The Lancaster dam is filled with water of a PH of about 2, 6. It is similar to lemon juice. There is absolutely no life,” she added.

“It is as a result of 120 years of mining and obviously very poor management of wastes from the gold mines. The gold mines generate the most cost of the socio-economic impact and also ecological impact. The gold mines generate 47% of the mineral wastes.”

“Waste from gold mines constitutes the largest single source of waste and pollution in South Africa… Acid mine drainage may continue for many years after mines are closed and tailings dams decommissioned,” Liefferink said. Continue reading

Radioactive Waste Spills Into River System

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

DUE to heavy rainfall in the past few weeks, acid mine drainage is “thundering” into the Witwatersrand Western Basin, causing it to spill over, carrying radioactive waste into the Tweelopiespruit and the Crocodile River system, which flows into the already polluted Hartbeespoort Dam, says water activist Dr Anthony Turton.

Hartbeespoort Dam. Photo by Michael McCloskey

The western basin is one of a series of underground dolomitic cavities that, when full, can decant or spill out above ground into the surface river system. Underground mining activities have polluted this water and despite the best efforts of some miners, the level of this water has been slowly rising.

Turton said yesterday that the “long- awaited and feared decant of acid mine water into the western basin” would have a “massive” effect on agriculture because “the high salt load and heavy metals will render the land unusable”.

Environmental activist Mariette Liefferink, CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said a government task team had been set up to handle the crisis, headed by Michael Oberholzer of the Council for Geoscience.

“The disheartening thing is we alerted the government to the crisis as far back as 2006 but nothing was done,” Liefferink said. “When I took a team of local and international journalists to visit the site yesterday, water was pouring out of the lowest level of old mine shafts.

“The damage is now irreversible and the water is flowing underground uncontrolled into the Wonderfontein and Tweelopie spruits and the Crocodile River. If by tomorrow the government does not take action on the matter, we will be taking the government to court.”

Liefferink said mines were struggling to pump and treat water far in excess of what they are required to do. She said Rand Uranium was doing its best to pump water into the Robinson Dam.

“However, even if we dilute the acid mine drainage water with treated water, it just converts back to acid water. The pH level of the water we have tested ranges between 2,6 and 3,2, which is nothing short of an environmental disaster.”

Turton said residents relying on Rand Water had nothing to fear at the moment. “Their water is drawn from the pristine Lesotho Highlands Water supply as well as from the Tugela River system.”

Source: Business Day