- Title: SOUTH AFRICA: Rising acid waters threaten Johannesburg
- Date: 5th August 2010
- Summary: SOUTH DEEP GOLD MINE, SOUTH AFRICA (FILE - JUNE 04, 2010) (REUTERS) MINERS UNDERGROUND STAGNANT WATER UNDERGROUND MINER REMOVING MUDDY WATER UNDERGROUND
- Embargoed: 20th August 2010 02:17
- Location: South Africa
- Country: South Africa
- Topics: Environment / Natural World,Population
- Reuters ID: LVA42MN0W69UVEHTDCQMKSSOQP8U
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: Millions of litres of acidic water are rising underneath the city of Johannesburg and the Witswatersrand area will soon spill on the streets if left unchecked, according to environmental activists.
The acid water underground has been created by hundreds of unregulated mining operations in the Johannesburg area- also known as Egoli, 'the city of gold'.
Mining companies are required to treat the water underground before discharging it, and many have not complied, the environmental group said.
Some mines have stopped treating the water or are only partially treating the water because of financial constraints, they said. And once the pumping stops, the acid water would start flowing into the town.
Acid water is formed underground when old shafts and tunnels fill up once mining stops. The rain water is then exposed to sulphide mineral iron pyrite- it then fills the mine and starts spilling into the environment. This process is called acid mine drainage.
In 2002 acid mine drainage had started flowing from the Western Basin, located below the Krugersdorp-Randfontein area. The water is highly acidic and contains heavy metals that are harmful to the environment and humans.
"Since 2002, when the first acidic mine water started to outflow or decant from the mine void, that is the mining basin, it then resulted in this lake, the water was pumped in to this lake, and this lake was declared a radioactive lake, there is no aquatic biota in this lake, no single life form, no amphipath, this is the consequences of acid mine drainage," said activist Mariette Liefferink from the Federation for a Sustainable Environment.
Although the department of Water and Environmental Affairs has pledged million of rand to increase the capacity of a water-treatment plant to deal with acid mine drainage in the area, Liefferink says the situation is a ticking time bomb.
"It has been classified by the European Environmental Bureau and also by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as the second greatest risk next to global warming, if this is indeed the case, the Witwatersrand is at serious risk, this is the smallest of the mining basins, it is now fully flooded, it has had devastating impact, it has resulted in river systems being classified as the Class 5 River Systems, that is the acute, high acutely hazardous river systems," added Liefferink.
Water scientist Professor Anthony Turton says the uncontrolled acid water that is flowing in the streams and rivers not only affects the quality of water, the impact is long-term. The acid water will affect crops, thus resulting in a decline in agricultural production.
"We are now putting this highly toxic water into a number of our river systems, and the way that nature blessed us, they blessed us with very high minerals in the country and those minerals happened to be in the same geographic area as our best agricultural land, so we have now been stripping these minerals out of the ground for more than a century, unregulated, no money is being put aside for long-term environment rehabilitation and we are now coming into a situation where those toxic waters are flowing through our best agricultural land and we are now transitioning from a country where we used to be nationally food secure, we are now going to start becoming nationally food insecure, and we gonna become net importers of food, and will in turn have a massive knock-on-effect in terms of land redistribution, the whole political process in this country and we all know that land redistribution is a very, very sensitive issue," said Professor Anthony Turton.
Many residents of Johannesburg's poor communities have built their shacks near mine tailings dumps, in some cases on top of the of the land contaminated by mining activities.
Mariette Liefferink from the Federation for a Sustainable Environment said that long-term exposure to the toxic metals can cause cancer and can also affect the fetus by causing retardation in new-born babies.
Mining began in the Witwatersrand area nearly 120 years ago and more than 43,000 tons of gold and 73,000 tons of uranium have been extracted from the region's mines.
- Copyright Holder: FILE REUTERS (CAN SELL)
- Copyright Notice: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2020. Open For Restrictions - http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None