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

Chickens gain weight faster on sewage sludge

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 26 April 2010

South Africans could find themselves dining in future on chickens and other animals reared on a protein-rich diet extracted from the local sewerage works.

Researchers at the University of Pretoria and other academic institutions in the developing world say single-cell proteins extracted from sewage sludge are rich in amino acids, minerals and vitamins and hold “enormous potential” to alleviate severe human malnutrition by lowering the rising cost of animal meat.

Several experiments have already been done in South Africa and Nigeria to fatten up chickens, goats and pigs on food supplemented with extracts from urban sewerage works or dried chicken manure.

This was one of the more bizarre proposals presented to delegates at the Water Institute of South Africa conference in Durban last week by researchers from the University of Pretoria’s chemical engineering department.

A research paper by associate professor Evans Chirwa and masters student Moses Lebitso reports on experiments at the university to feed more than 40 chickens on a variety of diets – including treated extracts from 100 percent sewage sludge collected from the Zeekoeigat sewage works in Gauteng.

According to Chirwa and Lebitso, the chickens raised on 100 percent sludge gained weight faster than a control group of chickens raised on conventional feeds such as fishmeal. They also calculated that it was far cheaper to feed chickens on sewage sludge than fish meal, soya oilcake or lucerne.

It cost the researchers R7,63 to fatten up broiler chicks to a weight of 1,88kg using conventional fishmeal, but only R6,65 to fatten broilers to 1,97kg using extracts from sludge.

One potential problem, they note, is that sludge from city sewage works often contains toxic heavy metals from industrial wastewater, including lead, manganese, copper, cadmium and zinc.

It was therefore important to “remove or reduce” the heavy metal content to levels which complied with allowable or tolerable levels before feeding the sludge to animals. Continue reading

Grahamstown water debate continues

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 10 March 2010

The Makana municipality may have given Grahamstown’s tap water a clean bill of health, but experts are divided over whether it is, in fact, safe to drink.

Although a panel of Rhodes University professors and a packed gallery containing some equally learned experts did not see eye to eye on claims that the water was tainted by heavy metal toxins, they all agreed more tests needed to be done.

The meeting was chaired by Rhodes Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Saleem Badat, but trying to get conclusive answers at Monday night’s Public Forum on Water Issues proved murkier than the often dirty looking water in the student town.

The decision to debate the quality of the town’s water comes hot on the heels of a Dispatch report last week on allegedly dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals coming from a tap at a local ostrich export abattoir.

Unacceptable levels of aluminium, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and coliforms were allegedly detected regularly in the water by a South African Bureau of Standards accredited laboratory conducting tests for the Integrated Meat Processors of the Eastern Cape (Impec) Abattoir. Continue reading

Alarming level of toxic metals in water

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 03 March 2010

Alarmingly high levels of deadly toxic metals in Grahamstown’s tap water has scientists worried about the future health of residents who drink municipal water.

Export of ostrich meat is also under threat

According to recently released research, drinking a litre of Settler City tap water a day for three months could lead to severe lead and mercury poisoning. Cadmium poisoning could become a reality after six months and aluminium and arsenic poisoning after one year.

Calling the findings “alarming”, Rhodes University neuro-chemist Professor Janice Limson yesterday said residents ran the risk of short-and long-term organ damage to the kidneys and liver from cadmium and mercury in the water. “They (metals) can also affect our brains and nervous system causing memory loss and depression and by damaging the body’s natural repair systems, can result in accelerated ageing. “Many of the toxic heavy metals are also carcinogenic…it is particularly worrying that these metals can be transferred to unborn babies.” Although some heavy metal consumption may not be immediately problematic, concerns have been raised over the long-term accumulative affect of the toxins.

And, it is not just the health of Grahamstown residents that is at risk. According to local ostrich abattoir manager, Werner Raubenheimer the future of the town’s lucrative export facility is also in jeopardy, especially if the European Union pulls the plug on buying meat from Grahamstown.

The water findings only became public knowledge when Raubenheimer released SABS-approved tests of tap water from the Integrated Meat Processors of the Eastern Cape (Impec) plant in the town’s industrial area. “We have been testing the water weekly since 1993 and only started picking up heavy metal problems over the past two years. “We are facing a looming human and economic disaster that could have long-term negative implications for the whole town, if we do not sort it out.”

Besides excessive concentrations of heavy metals, Raubenheimer said another huge concern was bacteriological problems – especially over the past five years. Regular tests for E.coli coliforms and faecal counts often revealed results, “as regular as clockwork”, that were considered “too numerous to count”.

Municipal spokesperson Thandy Matebese said yesterday the town had “engaged with Amatola Water to try and resolve water quality problems”. Matebese did not release the results of municipal-funded tests.

A local water expert blamed the problems on a “skills shortage” in the local authority – despite the town having some of the best experts in South Africa living and working there. “The data shows that, for a period from at least 2006, the level of aluminium in our water has been well over the legal limit, and that, if somebody were to have been drinking that since then, by 2012 it will have caused irreparable long-term damage to their health,” the expert said.

Source: Dispatch Online
Related article: Grahamstown water debate continues 10 March 2010

Acid mine water flows into wetland

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

Source: Earthlife Africa Jhb

Acid mine water is pouring out of an old mine shaft on the West Rand, near Randfontein. The water is untreated and contains toxic heavy metals, including radioactive uranium. It flows down hill into a wetland area, to join the Tweelopiespruit which eventually flows into the Crocodile River. There is a strong smell of hydrogen sulphide – a toxic gas that can be very dangerous at high concentrations.

Acid mine water overflowing from an old mine shaft on the Black Reef Incline, near Rand Uranium's treatment pond, 30 January 2010.

Some ELA Jhb members visited the area on 30 January 2010. In response, a member wrote the article below about the environmental crisis on the West Rand.

Acid Mine Drainage – is this the end of life in Gauteng?

Judith Taylor, A member of Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce Water Commission and EarthLife Africa Johannesburg

“What does this mean?  Simply this – a deadly cocktail of chemicals has become part of the water leaking from mine shafts into our dolomitic (vulnerable rock formations that are very soft and easily degraded) areas.  This cocktail includes various sulphates, and metals such as lead, magnesium, cadmium, bismuth, and radioactive uranium, strontium (one of uranium’s progeny) and radium which decays into radon, radon gas, polonium, and thorium.

In the Witwatersrand, the dolomite is being eaten away by this water, which is in the “basins” or void, under the Witwatersrand Ridge.  Already, it is decanting or leaking into our ground water and many people have been seriously affected by this.  Some farms have been so badly affected that they are no longer operative.

Not only our water, but our food security is threatened, as the pollutants in the soil and water get into food crops.

Recent rains have led to the most recent overflow of acid mine water on the West Rand (mid-January 2010). Continue reading