Decommissioning Projects - South Africa
(last updated 1 Mar 2020)
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Study finds elevated radium concentrations in dust in West Rand gold mining area
[...] The aim of this work was to assess the radiological health risk due to intake of radionuclides in dust and drinking water from the West Rand gold mining area and Modiri Molema Municipality (MMM) water treatment plant. [...]
The mean activity concentrations of the radionuclides in air dust were found to be; 226Ra, (2.14 ± 0.82) x 10-6 Bq/m3, 238U (6.08 ± 2.17) x 10-7 Bq/m3 and 232Th (2.65 ± 1.1) x 10-7 Bq/m3. The activity concentration of 226Ra obtained exceeded the world average by 2 times. The Raeq [Radium equivalent activity], the external hazard (Hex) and internal hazard (Hin) indices were calculated and the values obtained from soil were lower than the world average. However, the absorbed dose rate in air was higher than the world averages of 60 nGy/h. [...]
The results for soil dust indicates that the windward areas might pose health risks for human population staying in the area and the activity concentration for drinking water indicate that the specific activity in the water supply after purification is below the WHO guideline limit of 0.5 Bq/L for gross alpha and 1 Bq/L for gross beta. The results obtained were also within the range of the South Africa Department of Water Affairs and Forestry target water quality limit of (0-1.38) Bq/L for gross beta activity. Heavy metals concentrations in drinking water did not exceed the stipulated limits by USEPA and DWAF. Therefore, this water after treatment is radiologically and toxicologically safe for the members of the public.
Source: Radiological health risk assessment of drinking water and soil dust from Gauteng and North West Provinces, in South Africa, by Madzunya D, Dudu V P, Mathuthu M, et al., in: Heliyon 6 (2020) Feb 17;6(2)
People living next to Johannesburg tailings dumps suffer from respiratory ailments‚ NGO study finds
Communities living in the shadows of Johannesburg's infamous mine dumps are at greater risk of respiratory illnesses than those residing in the city’s leafy northern suburbs‚ a new study by the Bench Marks Foundation has found.
The study‚ titled Waiting to inhale‚ looked at household health and wellbeing in four mine-impacted communities in Johannesburg. The communities studied were Riverlea‚ Diepkloof‚ Meadowlands and Doornkop‚ all of which are situated close to one of the most intensely mined areas on the planet. [...]
More than half (56.1%) of residents identified respiratory ailments (cough‚ sinus‚ asthma and TB) as their most persistent health problem. About 4% of respondents also reported eye problems.
Bench Marks says that the respiratory problems may be associated with dust from the surrounding mine operations and tailings‚ asbestos roofing and smoking.
"The research findings in these three communities suggest that mining activity could play a higher role in respiratory ailments than the prevalence of asbestos roofing‚" the foundation commented.
"However‚ Bench Marks noted that it would require a proper epidemiological study to determine a direct correlations between tailings dust and respiratory problems in these communities‚ such as blood tests‚ to determine the presence or otherwise of toxic substances that might also be present in the mine waste‚" the foundation said.
(TimesLive Aug. 29, 2017)
> Download: Soweto Report: 'Waiting to Inhale', A survey of household health in four mine-affected communities , Policy Gap 12, Bench Marks Foundation, August 2017 (10.9MB PDF)
WHO tests hair samples from residents living near gold/uranium mill tailings dumps for uranium
The World Health Organization is collecting hair samples west of Johannesburg to see if residents near South Africa's biggest city are suffering from excessive uranium pollution due to ore dumps from 130 years of gold mining.
The Geneva-based United Nations unit will analyze hair samples from about 1,600 people living in neighborhoods near mine-waste dumps, mainly west of Johannesburg, it said in an e-mailed response to questions. Uranium, which can cause cancer, can be ingested through drinking contaminated water or inhaling dust.
"The objective is to study the environmental exposure to uranium and its decay products of the population living in close proximity to gold mine tailing dumps in and around Johannesburg," the WHO said. "These residue areas are often densely populated and create the potential for substantial levels of exposure to uranium."
(Bloomberg Mar. 15, 2016)
Study measures uranium and thorium uptake by medicinal plants growing near abandoned tailings pile of Princess gold mine
"Medicinal plant consumption can be a source of human exposure to radioactive elements such as 238U and 232Th, which can lead to internal radiation doses. The uptake of 238U and 232Th from soils to the leaf samples of three different medicinal plant species (Eucalyptus globulus, Acacia mearnsii and Hyparrhenia filipendula) from the purlieu of the Princess gold mine dump, an abandoned contaminated tailings storage site (TSS), located [...] in Davidsonville (Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg, South Africa) was measured. This was done using ICP-MS spectrometry and substantial differences were observed in the soil-plant transfer factor (TF) values between these radionuclides.
The plant species E. globulus exhibited the highest uptake of 238U, with an average TF of 3.97, while that of H. filipendula was 0.01 and the lowest TF of 0.15 x 10-2 was measured for A. mearnsii.
However, in the case of 232Th, the highest average TF was observed for A. mearnsii (0.29), followed by E. globulus (0.10) and lowest was measured for H. filipendula (0.27 x 10-2). [...]"
Transfer Rates of 238U and 232Th for E. globulus, A. mearnsii, H. filipendula and Hazardous Effects of the Usage of Medicinal Plants From Around Gold Mine Dump Environs, by Tshivhase VM, Njinga RL, Mathuthu M, et al., in: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health Vol. 12 (2015), No. 12, p. 15782-15793
Mine dust from sandstorm could be toxic
The massive sandstorm Johannesburg experienced this week may have a much longer lasting effect on it's residents: the airborne spread of heavy metal particles.
"What a lot of people don't realise is the sweeping up of dust from barren mining landscapes by strong winds happens extremely regularly," says environmental activist group Federation for a Sustainable Environment CEO Mariette Liefferink.
Liefferink said it has been proven the dust from mining operations contain potentially toxic and radioactive particles. She said heavy metals synonymous with historic mining activities often nestled in decades-old mine dumps across the heavily mined Gauteng province and beyond.
(The Citizen Oct. 19, 2014)
Report exposing hazards from mine dumps in Gauteng still unreleased
The 380 mine dumps and slimes dams in Gauteng could be a far bigger threat than acid mine drainage (AMD).
They are causing radioactive dust fallout, toxic water pollution and soil contamination, according to the final draft of a new report by the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) on mine residue areas (MRAs), called for by Premier Nomvula Mokonyane "as a potential provincial priority".
The report was completed in July but is yet to be released.
It warns that if the province doesn't act, "Joburg will eventually be seen as an old mining town that has reached the end of its working life", with banks redlining (refusing) to finance any homes or development near the dumps.
The report found that most MRAs - including mine dumps, waste rocks dumps and water storage facilities - in Gauteng are radioactive "because the Witwatersrand gold-bearing ores contain almost 10 times the amount of uranium in gold."
"These radioactive tailings co-exist in these MRAs alongside the iron sulphide mineral pyrite, which reacts in the presence of oxygen and water to form a sulphuric acid solution - the main cause of acid mine drainage," says the report, Feasibility Study on Reclamation of Mine Residue Areas for Development Purposes: Phase II Strategy and Implementation Plan, co-written by water scientist Anthony Turton.
But it says that the broader issue of "diffuse sources" of pollution represented by the mine dumps and slimes dams and their possible interactions with rainfall, seepage, surface water runoff and shallow groundwater "is possibly more important than the impact of AMD" in Gauteng.
In February, the Saturday Star revealed how the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) had recommended the relocation of residents of Tudor Shaft informal settlement, on an old radioactive mine dump, in Krugersdorp. The report suggests that this NNR ruling is "likely to become a watershed ruling likely to be relevant for a number of other sites" and that high-risk informal settlements will need to be relocated to minimise human health risks.
It singles out the dangers of ground instability and the collapse above abandoned mine workings and around open mine shafts that present a danger to nearby informal settlements as well as the danger of wind-blown mine dust being inhaled, damaging lung tissue, resulting in respiratory diseases.
The department will survey and map all MRAs "with a view to determining the physical location of each source of hazard - chemical, radiological and physical" and quantify risks.
(Saturday Star Nov. 5, 2011)
Draft Regional Mine Closure Strategies issued for comment
Following the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) initiated the Sustainable Development through Mining (SDM) programme. The DME is assisted in this regard by the Council for Geoscience (CGS) , the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Mintek .
The development of regional mine closure strategies was initiated as part of the SDM programme. The first series of the draft regional mine closure strategies is being put forward for public review from December 2008 to 31 January 2009.
> Download Draft Regional Mine Closure Strategies documents (CGS)
> Assessment of potential toxic influence of uranium trial mining in the Karoo Uranium Province , by Nicolaas Scholtz, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa, 2003
An assessment of uranium trial mining on four mining sites in the Karoo Uranium Province, South Africa revealed localised above-background values for U, Mo, Pb, Cu, As and Fe in surface - and ground water, soils, sediment and crops. Inadequate remedial action on cessation of mining activities in 1980 led to the presence of uranium ore in stockpiles, open pits, mining shafts, mining equipment and waste dumps within featured areas.
Heavy metal contamination is suppressed by the lack of run-off and the dry climate experienced within the mining areas. However, the heavy metal content in surface water and sediment within the open pits on Rietkuil and Mooifontein is especially high. These values pose a risk for human ingestion and may cause cancer in the long term or renal damage over the short term. These pits are easily accessed, lack a fence and are used for a drinking medium by fauna and as a growth medium for flora. The easily accessed Cameron Shaft on Ryst Kuil is a matter of concern due to the possible presence of the radioactive inert gas, radon.
Farm owners were unaware of the possible toxic effects of uranium and coherent heavy metals. This led to previous usage of mine water for crop irrigation, the moving and feeding of livestock as well as wildlife amongst uranium ore stockpiles, swimming in water-filled open pits and using crushed uranium ore for gravel road maintenance and construction.
The presence of uranium ore in stockpiles and the coherent effects on the water, soils, sediment, fauna and flora and possibly man, prioritises the remediation and rehabilitation of the of uranium trial mining sites within the Karoo Uranium Province.
No need for reclamation of gold/uranium mill tailings?
In a paper given on Oct. 4, 2001, at ICEM'01 Denis G. Wymer of the Chamber of Mines of South Africa presented environmental monitoring data for the radiological impact from the gold/uranium mining industry and its wastes.
These data were used to calculate doses for members of the public.
"[...] It is concluded from these results that the impact of gold mining operations on the environment is small, and will not cause any member of the public to receive a radiation dose more than about 10% of the public dose limit. Current rehabilitation measures for tailings are mainly limited to vegetation and reworking of slopes. It is unlikely that the costs of constructing radon barriers would ever be justified on the basis of the minimal dose reduction benefits that could be achieved. Some measures to control surface water pollution may continue to be necessary but, from present knowledge, contamination of ground water is unlikely to be of concern. [...]" (excerpt from the abstract)
More than 300 families living next to radioactive mine dump in Krugersdorp relocated, but some still remain on site
More than 300 families have been relocated from land next to the "hazardous" Tudor Mine Shaft dump in Mogale City, Krugersdorp.
This follows interventions by the Socio-economic Rights Institute (SERI) representing residents and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE).
In June 2012, FSE brought an urgent application in the South Gauteng High Court. It argued that the municipality's plans to dump piles of mining waste next to the Tudor Shaft informal settlement, home to thousands of people, was unlawful and could release radioactive dust particles into the air.
FSE obtained an interim interdict stopping the dumping until the informal settlement residents could be relocated to a safer area.
Following an agreement made with the Gauteng Human Settlements Department, SERI attorney Nkosinathi Sithole said over 600 RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) homes were built for the residents in Kagiso Extension 13. The new housing development is situated less than 10 kilometres from the Tudor informal settlement.
Sithole said SERI was also asking the municipality to provide housing for a group of people who have remained living on the land. These are either immigrants, or South Africans who did not qualify for the RDP homes, were unemployed, did not meet the housing requirements or earned a total income too high to make them eligible for the relocation.
Sithole said work on the site is expected to continue once everyone has been relocated.
(GroundUp Feb. 6, 2017)
"[...] In this study, gamma spectroscopy was used to measure the activity concentrations of these radionuclides in 56 soil samples from the mine tailings and 10 soil samples from the control area. The average activity concentrations in Bq·kg-1 for Uranium-238, Thorium-232, and Potassium-40 from the mine tailings were found to be 485.3 ± 13.7, 43.9 ± 1.0 and 427.0 ± 13.1, respectively. [...] Radiological hazard parameters calculated from these activity concentrations were higher than recommended safe limits. In particular, calculated average values for the external hazard (Hex) and the internal hazard (Hin) from the mine tailings were found to be 2.4 and 4.5. Both these values were higher than unity, posing a significant health risk to the population in the area."
An Assessment of Radiological Hazards from Gold Mine Tailings in the Province of Gauteng in South Africa , by Kamunda C, Mathuthu M, Madhuku M, in: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health Vol. 13, No. 1 (January 2016), 138 (Open Access) [Caution: the abstract reached with this link contains a number of typographical errors - use the full text for reference!]
Residents of informal settlement at radioactive mine waste dump in Krugersdorp after years still waiting for relocation
Tudor Shaft was created in 1996 when the local government forcibly relocated hundreds of people to this site from another informal settlement a few kilometres away.
Environmentalists have tried to warn the residents about the radioactive dangers from the tailings dump, but it’s been a difficult task. Even today, the residents grow pumpkins and corn in small gardens on the dump. There is no fence to prevent children from playing in the radioactive waste.
In 2012, acting on advice from the NNR, the local government and a mining company began removing the Tudor Shaft waste dump. About half of the soil was removed, but environmentalists were alarmed that it was being done without risk-assessment studies or consultations, and they obtained a court order to suspend it. While the government relocated 14 families that were living on top of the waste dump, it ignored others who lived just a few metres away. Today the community remains in limbo, still exposed to the radiation threat.
(The Globe and Mail Mar. 10, 2015)
Study finds extreme uranium and heavy metal contamination in cattle grazing near Wonderfontein Spruit
A researcher from North West University has found that the internal organs of cattle kept in the area around the Wonderfontein Spruit have been contaminated with uranium and cobalt.
David Hamman, in research conducted for his Masters thesis in environmental science, analysed the animals' kidneys and found that uranium levels were 4,350 times higher than those in a control group.
In his study, titled "A Holistic View on the Impact of Gold and Uranium Mining on the Wonderfontein Spruit", Hamman found that the cattle were eating grass that grew next to the river.
This proved that the heavy metals bio-accumulated in the grass, Hamman said.
He also found that high concentrations of lead were found in irrigated lands next to the Wonderfontein Spruit -- up to 17.3 times higher than those next to the Mooi River.
Hamman did a risk analysis for beef eaters, and found that no danger existed for people eating less than 0.13 kg per day of the contaminated meat.
(SowetanLIVE Dec. 18, 2012)
NGO fights in court to ensure radioactive Tudor shaft mine dump is removed safely
"There are pure gold tailings", explains Liefferink, of the samples she collected and had tested from the Tudor Shaft informal settlement in Krugersdorp last week.
"The chemical analysis reveals these crusts contain elevated levels of uranium, copper, cobalt, arsenic, aluminium, manganese, and mercury."
Liefferink, the chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), wanted to present the samples in the FSE's court case this week against the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), Mogale City local municipality and the Departments of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
But both the municipality and NNR have failed to file their responding affidavits to the Johannesburg High Court.
In June, the NNR, the municipality and Mintails started removing a mine dump, which has been declared a radiological hot spot, from Tudor Shaft. But the FSE stopped the removal arguing it was poorly done.
"These samples come from where the NNR has already removed the waste, which shows that even the footprint is highly contaminated", she points out. When they come in with a bulldozer, it liberates the dust. It's almost as fine as talcum power and can be easily ingested. There is a risk if it's not carefully managed."
(Saturday Star Oct. 27, 2012)
South Africa runs out of time in acid mine drainage abatement
The issue of mine water treatment and the management thereof has become urgent. South Africa has run out of time to debate and must act, says Water Research Commission (WRC) mine water treatment and management research manager Dr Jo Burgess.
The western, central and eastern basins of the Witwatersrand are currently the main focus of South Africa's acid mine drainage (AMD) treatment needs, Department of Water Affairs (DWA) water-quality management senior manager Marius Keet tells Mining Weekly.
“In the western basin, we have managed to stop the decant and draw the water down to one metre below surface level. However, this was before the rains started, which will cause the water to rise again,” he states.
If the DWA had enough pumps and treatment facilities, it would be able to draw the water down to the environmental critical level, which is 150 m below surface and which would create a buffer capacity if it rained, he adds.
In terms of the central basin, the DWA is still waiting for final budget approval for the construction of the treatment plant for the next financial year, says Keet, adding that the necessary funds for this year have been made available.
“I am positive, except for the fact that we will run out of time if something is not done within the next few weeks,” he says.
Building a treatment plant takes about a year and the current situation dictates that the environmental critical level will be breached in June or July next year. Therefore, there is only nine months left during which to act, he explains.
Further, as a result of financial constraints, the DWA has decided to defer the treatment of the AMD from the eastern basin to a later stage, as the eastern basin's situation is less critical than that of the central and western basins.
“The eastern basin is also critical, but we do have some time,” says Keet.
(Mining Weekly Sep. 21, 2012)
Acid mine water abatement costs double, but state has no extra funds
The projected costs of initially solving the Witwatersrand's acid mine drainage problem have more than doubled to R2.2bn [US$ 260 million], says Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.
The Treasury has allocated R433m [US$ 51.3 million] to sort out the acid mine water that has already polluted the region's western basin. Experts say acid mine water could decant into the central basin, which encompasses parts of Johannesburg, within a year and the eastern basins soon after that.
"Since the appointment of the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority to implement emergency acid mine drainage mitigation measures, preliminary findings guided by a due diligence estimated the capital cost for the short-term solution in all three basins at R924m [US$ 109 million] as at July 2011," Ms Molewa said on Thursday (Aug. 30) in reply to a parliamentary question.
"Subsequent to the evaluation of bids and a comprehensive costing exercise, the actual cost was determined at R2.2bn as at June 2012."
Ms Molewa said earlier this week the Department of Water Affairs had a R338bn [US$ 40 billion] funding gap and that South Africa needed to spend R670bn [US$ 79.3 billion] on its water sector over the next 10 years. The Treasury said there was no extra money.
(Business Day Aug. 31, 2012)
Removal of Tudor shaft mine dump halted
The "illegal" removal of a mine dump in an informal settlement on the West Rand could cause the liberation of radioactive dust particles which thousands of its residents will unwittingly inhale and ingest.
It is on these grounds that the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) has succeeded in stopping the removal of the mine dump, a "radiological hotspot", from the Tudor Shaft informal settlement in Krugersdorp.
"Although the FSE welcomes the mine residue removal, the FSE takes the view that the current operations are illegal in the absence of comprehensive risk assessments (to determine) the risks associated with the movement of radioactive and toxic mine residue and a public participation processes."
(IOL July 7, 2012)
Environmentalist resigns from board of South Africa's Nuclear Regulator over communities' exposure to radioactive mining waste
Environmental campaigner Mariette Liefferink has resigned from SA's nuclear watchdog citing her frustration over the organisation's failure to deal with vulnerable communities exposed to dangerous mining waste.
Liefferink cited the example of Tudor Shaft informal settlement on the West Rand - where thousands of impoverished residents continue to live on uraniferous slimes dams - as well as the identification of 36 sites as "radiological hotspots" in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area. These sites are radioactive because of the uraniferous nature of the ore.
"There is still no physical evidence of rehabilitation. In Tudor dam there are elevated radioactivity levels, but people are still living on the banks, the site is not fenced off and there are no warning signs."
It was not acceptable that communities continued to live in such circumstances.
(Saturday Star Apr. 21, 2012)
State agency again warns of funding shortfall for acid drainage abatement projects
South Africa's Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) reports that it is making some progress in implementing emergency and near-term projects designed to deal with the problem of acid mine drainage (AMD) arising on the eastern, central and western basins of the Witwatersrand goldfields. But in a 'status update', released on Thursday (Jan. 19), the State agency again cautions that the capital set aside for the implementation of the so-called 'Phase 1' projects is inadequate.
These 'Phase 1' interventions aim to prevent the acid water from rising above the so-called environmental critical level (ECL) across the various basins, while drawing the level below that level in the western basin, where the ECL has already been breached.
In fact, TCTA describes funding by the government to meet AMD costs as “not feasible or desirable”.
A due diligence review undertaken last year by BKS and Golder Associates, indicated that the capital costs associated with Phase 1, inclusive of a 15% contingency and escalation, would be R924-million [US$ 115 million]. But TCTA was initially allocated R225-million [US$ 28 million], which National Treasury increased by a further R208-million [US$ 25.9 million] after both TCTA and the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) made representations.
In other words, the funding shortfall is currently estimated at R492-million [US$ 61.3 million] for the project, which comprises: the installation of pumps to extract water from a mine void to on-site treatment plants; the construction of an on-site water treatment plant in each basin with the option of refurbishing; and upgrading the existing plants owned by the mines and the installation of infrastructure to convey treated water to nearby water courses.
The allocations also do not cover estimated yearly operating costs of R210-million [US$ 26.2 million] for an intervention TCTA acknowledged to be a mere “interim solution to prevent an environmental catastrophe”.
(Engineering News Jan. 19, 2012)
Majority of residents of informal settlement on radioactive mine waste dump in Krugersdorp still waiting for relocation
In an unprecedented move earlier this year, the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) recommended that Mogale City municipality relocate the thousands of residents of Tudor Shaft after it found elevated levels of radiation in the settlement could lead to a "potentially hazardous situation".
Mogale City maintains it has moved close to 200 families from Tudor Shaft and its neighbouring informal settlements and that it is working with the NNR to rehabilitate Tudor Shaft. NNR spokesman Gino Moonsamy claims over 500 people have been moved.
But residents like Jeffrey Ramorute say this is untrue. "Only around eight shacks, with about 35 families, were moved from this site," says the community leader, pointing to a yellow outcrop of mine sludge, where Professor Chris Busby, a world expert in uranium, in December found radiation levels inside a shack 15 times higher than regulatory limits. "These people are lying if they say they've moved everybody. We're still here, living in poor conditions."
Hundreds of shacks, and thousands of people, remain in Tudor Shaft. "Look there," says a dismayed Mariette Liefferink, an environmental activist, as she gestures to a group of children playing on the site where Busby took his radioactivity readings.
"Children continue to play on that site (where the shacks were removed)," says Liefferink. "Many are barefoot. What has happened here is not sufficient. People are still living on the tailings, on unsafe land... It's a really desperate situation."
(Independent Online Nov. 15, 2011)
Seismic events almost doubled since toxic acid mine drainage water started filling abandoned mines
Monthly seismic events in Johannesburg and the West Rand and East Rand have almost doubled since acid mine drainage began to fill derelict mines in 2008, Parliament's water and environment affairs committee was told yesterday (June 21).
The government is racing against time to get pumping stations and treatment plants in place before March next year when the toxic water is predicted to reach the environmentally critical level of 150m below the surface. The committee is holding public hearings to assess progress towards a solution.
Henk Coetzee, one of the government's team of experts that investigated acid mine drainage, said increased seismicity was one of the risks associated with the flooding of mines. The water lubricated faults in the earth's crust and allowed them to move.
Mr Coetzee said since pumping stopped at the ERPM mine in December 2008, the monthly average of seismic events had risen from 5.9 to 11.7. Some were strong enough to cause concern.
He also confirmed fears about the pollution of underground water resources, possible land instability and the threat to the foundations of buildings.
Once the 150m level was breached, the acid water would enter shallow aquifers and contaminate groundwater, Mr Coetzee said. It would dissolve dolomite and cause underground erosion, increasing the possibility of sinkholes. On the western basin of the Witwatersrand, about 30 megalitres of acid water was decanting every day, threatening the Cradle of Humankind.
Committee chairman Johnny de Lange demanded the names of mining houses responsible for acid drainage and was told that in the west it was Rand Uranium, Durban Roodepoort Deep and Mintails. A water affairs official, Marius Keet, said the problems in the central basin were caused by the ERPM mine, and in the eastern basin by the Grootvlei mine.
(Business Day Jun. 22, 2011)
Fossils at Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site 'at risk' from acid mine water
Rising levels of acid mine water in the Cradle of Humankind - a world heritage site west of Johannesburg - are posing a risk to caves in which priceless fossils have been found.
A R2.1-million study, commissioned by the management of the tourist spot, said the cave system, which forms part of Bolt's Farm, "exhibits a very high vulnerability to both ground-water level fluctuations and water quality".
The farm is about 2.5 km southwest of the Sterkfontein Caves, where Mrs Ples, the popular nickname of the first, almost complete, fossilised skull of an early human, was found.
While Sterkfontein has sheltered hominid remains, the caves on Bolt's Farm have one of the oldest deposits of animal fossils.
The study was conducted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Council for Geoscience , the University of the Witwatersrand's School for Geoscience and iThemba Labs . It found that:
The report said the Cradle of Humankind was the only protected area in the world "ostensibly threatened" by acid water from mines.
"The perceived threat of AMD to the area has generated wide and considerable concern for the preservation of the Unesco-inscribed fossil sites," the report said.
- About 15,000 ha of the 52,000 ha site was receiving acid mine drainage (AMD) and sewage, affecting the subterranean and surface environment; and
- Dolomite samples were partially dissolved after being exposed to AMD.
Aquatic scientist Garfield Krige said the acid mine drainage could result in the loss of fossil sites.
"The acid mine drainage eats away at the dolomite and can result in the undermining of the caves above it, resulting in a collapse."
He said the water also removed metals from the rock, including uranium, which ended up in the ground water.
"The entire Tweelopie Spruit, running through Krugersdorp, is dead," Krige said.
Tweelopie joins the Riet Spruit before entering the Bloubank Spruit, which flows through the site.
(Times Live Apr. 24, 2011)
Dangerous levels of radioactivity in Gauteng's mine dumps will take decades and billions of rands to clear
In the wake of the government's decision last week to set aside R225-million to treat toxic water in underground mine voids, the focus fell on cleaning up hundreds of tailings dumps and slimes dams across the Reef. According to the government report on acid mine drainage toxic residues in mine dumps are seeping into underground water and exacerbating the problem. Anthony Turton, a scientist who raised the alarm about acid mine drainage a decade ago, said this week that sorting out the dumps would be difficult. "The sheer scale and complexity of dealing with radioactive dumps is far worse than the water problem," he said.
Mariette Liefferink, the chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said the tailings dumps and dams were historically sited on unlined dolomite, resulting in heavy metals and uranium seeping into groundwater. "There are at least 270 tailings dams on the Witwatersrand that will continue causing acid mine drainage for hundreds of years," she said.
Turton and the Gauteng government have compiled a report on the reclamation of "mine residue areas" that will be released next week for public input. "Our task is to decide what to do with the mine residue," he said. "Billions of rands could be involved."
The options included red-lining radioactive hot spots, rehabilitating the dumps, or re-mining the dumps and creating licensed mega-dumps elsewhere. This could take up to 30 years, he said. Liefferink's federation is opposing the remining and resiting of dumps and is taking legal advice on challenging 28 recent authorisations.
(Mail and Guardian Mar. 4, 2011)
Expert Team's report on Acid Mine Drainage in Witwatersrand Gold Fields finally released, recommends urgency measures
On 24 February 2011, the report was finally released:
A Team of Experts is reporting on its assessment and reappraisal of the situation with respect to acid mine drainage (AMD), focusing on the Witwatersrand Gold Fields.
"[...] it is recommended that AMD intervention and management
measures are undertaken in the Western, Central and Eastern Basins as a matter of
> Download: Mine water
management in the Witwatersrand Gold Fields with special emphasis on acid mine drainage, Report to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Acid Mine Drainage , December 2010, 146 p. (1.6M PDF - Department of Water Affairs)
The volumes of water to be managed may be reduced by the timely implementation of ingress management measures, with a resultant reduction in operating costs. The design of the pump and treat systems will need to take this into account."
- In the Western Basin, this requires the establishment of a neutralisation plant with a capacity of 20 Ml/d [833 m3/h]. This is required to supplement the existing treatment capacity operated by mines in the area and the upgrade of mine water pumping facilities accordingly.
- In the Central Basin, it is required that a pumping facility with a capacity of ~60 Ml/d [2,500 m3/h] be installed in one or more existing mine shafts, and a neutralisation plant or plants of matching capacity be established in close proximity.
- In the Eastern Basin, the pumping capability [of 75 - 108 Ml/d = 3,125 - 4,500 m3/h] in Number 3 Shaft of Grootvlei Mine must be secured. It is also required that the existing treatment plant at this locality be returned to service as soon as possible.
Nuclear Regulator announces relocation of informal settlement from radioactive mine waste dump in Krugersdorp
"It is heartening to report that after more than 8 years of whistleblowing, lobbying, thousands of news media reports, hundreds of in loco tours and workshops, and the distribution of hundreds of thousands of pamphlets that the thousands of residents of Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement are in the process of being relocated unto safe land. The National Nuclear Regulator and Mogale City Municipality acknowledged their responsibility in this regard. The relocation was announced yesterday during a meeting with the National Nuclear Regulator. "
(Mariette Liefferink, Feb. 19, 2011)
Acidic mine water reaches Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site
Acidic mine water that has been bubbling out of an old ventilation shaft on the West Rand for the past year has now reached the Cradle of Mankind, and is believed to have caused the deaths of over 60 carp in a dam.
This is the opinion of Dr Francois Durand of the Department of Zoology at the University of Johannesburg, after environmental experts found the dead fish in an irrigation dam in the Blaauwbankspruit.
This stream runs from the Tweelopiespruit, which springs from the radioactive Robinson lake outside Randfontein. From here it runs through the Krugersdorp game reserve, "over" the Sterkfontein Caves, right through the Cradle of Mankind up to the Crocodile River, which runs into the Hartbeespoort Dam.
Water specialist Garfield Krige agreed with Durand and said he believed the acidic mine water of the West Rand had reached the Hartbeespoort Dam "long ago".
The heavy rains over the past two weeks have filled the underground mined-out pockets on the West Rand to such an extent that there are now about 40 million litres of sour mine water in the Tweelopiespruit each day.
Krige, who lives in the Cradle of Mankind, said stones in the area where the Blaaubankspruit flowed, are also coloured bright orange.
The whole shore area of the Tweelopiespruit is coloured dark orange.
Durand said that not only are the fossils in the Sterkfontein Caves being threatened by the acidic minewater, but "all life" in the world heritage site.
(News24/Beeld Jan. 14, 2011)
> View Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and Environs (UNESCO World Heritage Centre)
Nuclear Regulator's faulty surveillance report on radiological impacts of mining wastes in Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment Area raises many questions
In July 2010, Nuclear Regulator (NNR) experts conducted an environmental survey in the upper Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment Area. They collected samples of water, soil, vegetable, other media, and took measurements of external radiation. The data obtained was used to calculate radiation doses for members of the public for certain exposure scenarios.
The highest potential doses of 3.9 mSv per year were calculated for residents of the Tudor shaft informal settlement (built on tailings); about half of this dose (1.89 mSv/a) is from external radiation, while the other half is attributed to intakes via ingestion and dust inhalation. For unknown reasons (possibly some assumed occupancy times) the contribution from external radiation is much lower than that measured by Prof Busby (see below).
While the calculated dose clearly exceeds ICRP's 1 mSv/a standard for the public, the regulator sees no particular reason for concern, as he considers doses of up to 20 mSv/a acceptable for the public - that is ICRP's dose standard for workers.
There is also no assessment of the extraordinarily high monitoring results found for uranium in surface water (1900 µg/L for the Lancaster Dam, and 2100 µg/L for the Hippo Pond - these values are determined from the U-235 activities given). These uranium concentrations exceed the 15 µg/L World Health Organization (WHO) guideline value for drinking water more than 125 times.
Moreover, a closer analysis of the report reveals a number of faults that call into question its overall credibility:
- One of the major contributors to dose - inhalation of radon - is not considered at all, although it is conceded that this might in particular play a role for the people living in the shacks of the Tudor shaft informal settlement.
- For the conversion of the calculated doses to mortality risk, a miscalculation with the conversion from rem to Sv leads to an underestimation of the risk by a factor of 10,000. In addition, the mortality coefficient used (0.02 per Sv) is lower by a factor of 2.5 than the 0.05 per Sv recommended by the ICRP for the public.
- The isotopic composition of uranium in a vegetable sample (Tudor 6 - from Spinach Garden, next to the shacks of the Tudor shaft informal settlement) is that of depleted uranium (DU) with 0.40 weight-% U-235, or, a mix of 40% natural uranium (Unat) and 60% DU of 0.2 weight-% U-235, for example.
- The isotopic composition of uranium in a soil sample (Tudor 4 - Tudor shaft shack) is that of enriched uranium with an assay of 1.02 weight-% U-235, or, a mix of 89% Unat and 11% enriched uranium with an assay of 3.5 weight-% U-235, for example.
> Download Surveillance Report of the Upper Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment Area , National Nuclear Regulator, TR-NNR-10-001, August 2010 (2.5M PDF - FSE)
Measurement confirms high radiation levels in informal settlement built on radioactive mine waste dump in Krugersdorp
Radiation levels at the Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement in Krugersdorp have reached dangerous levels and the community must be urgently relocated, according to Professor Chris Busby .
"In the shack where I visited in the Tudor Shaft informal village the dose rate was 1110 nSv/h which translates to 9.72 mGy or mSv per annum. I measured the radiation at ground level over linoleum so the predominant dose would have been from gamma radiation. The mean background I measured away from the mining area (in the grounds of the hotel) was 180-200 nGy/h so the shack dose from the contamination was about 8 mSv per year. This does not include exposure to the radon, to inhalation or ingestion but is purely external dose," Busby said.
(Business Day Dec. 10, 2010)
[Usually, external dose rates are measured at 1 m above ground. At ground level, dose rates are somewhat higher - a fact that has to be taken into account when comparing these results with dose rates measured elsewhere.]
Results of 120 years of mining in South Africa: acid mine drainage, tailings seepage, settlements on radioactive mine waste, and bricks being made from radioactive tailings
Mariette Liefferink, from the Federation for a Sustainable Environment showed Business Day around the West Rand and outlined some of the major environmental challenges.
Liefferink says the Lancaster dam in Krugersdorp, which is surrounded by tailings dams, is the source of the Wondersfonteinspruit.
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 [...] 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.
Next to the Lancaster dam is a brick manufacturing company which is manufacturing bricks made from tailings. Liefferink says the use of tailings to manufacture bricks or any construction material is inappropriate.
She said: "The department of minerals resources have done radiometric surveys within the central, East Rand to the West Rand and found it showed elevated levels of radioactivity as a result of the usage of tailings for construction materials. Bricks are being manufactured with tailings that contain radioactive and toxic heavy metals."
BDFM Online also visited the Tudor Informal Settlement in Krugersdorp which is erected on land contaminated by mining activities. It is also surrounded by radioactive dumps and tailings dams.
Liefferink says the residents of the squatter camp are exposed to high concentrations of cobalt, zinc, arsenic, and cadmium, all known carcinogens, as well as high levels of radioactive uranium.
She says the informal settlement was built on toxic and radioactive waste mine dumps.
(Business Day Dec. 8, 2010)
> View full article plus attached videos
> Aerial view: African Brick Centre Ltd factory with Lancaster Dam (Google Maps)
> African Brick Centre Ltd
> Aerial View: Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement (Google Maps)
Study urges pumping of acid mine water to avoid flooding in central Johannesburg
Unless millions of litres of acid mine water beneath Johannesburg are decanted soon, low-lying areas in the city could be flooded, Prof Terence McCarthy of the University of the Witwatersrand warns.
He said if pumping does not begin by October next year, many sites, including tourist attraction Gold Reef City - which he described as a "national treasure" - could flood.
Prof McCarthy was speaking at the launch of his new study, "The Decanting of Acid Mine Water in the Gauteng City-Region - Analysis, Prognosis and Solutions", published by the Gauteng City-Region Observatory , a partnership between Wits University and the Gauteng government.
(BusinessDay Nov. 26, 2010)
New measures to stop acid mine water decanting in central Johannesburg
The Department of Water Affairs has promised to erect a new pump station to stop acid mine water decanting in central Johannesburg, at a cost of about R 180 million [US$ 24 million].
It is also considering a pipeline to transport water for treatment from the Western Basin - the geographical area which roughly corresponds to the West Rand - at a cost of R 40 million [US$ 5.4 million].
Marius Keet, a senior department official, said mining houses had asked the government to contribute R 150 million [US$ 20 million] towards this cost, but that this had not been finalised. He said the government would consider paying a portion of the amount.
Mr Keet told Parliament's land and environmental affairs select committee yesterday (Aug. 24) that the matter was urgent. "If nothing is done, water will start decanting (from the so-called central basin, under the city) and contaminating ground water in 17 months."
To prevent this, a new pumping station and upgrades to a high-density sludge treatment works were urgently required. "According to the information available, 13 months' lead time is required for this. So if the government ... decides now to do something, in 13 months you can have a pump station," he said.
This means that, starting immediately, the government has a four-month window in which to take action.
(Business Day Aug. 25, 2010)
Old West Rand mines to be used as temporary storage for acid mine drainage to protect Johannesburg
Briefing the parliamentary portfolio committee on water and the environment in Randfontein yesterday (July 28), executives from the Rand Uranium mining company said it planned to use the mines under the city as a storage facility for the toxic water.
The second step will be to build a submersible pump in the province's central basin - stretching from Germiston to Roodepoort - to pump the acid mine drainage to a plant to treat it.
"This will be to buy time while we come up with long-term solutions. Step three will be to build a sophisticated water treatment plant that will produce potable water that could be sold to water authorities," CEO John Munro said.
Toxic water has already started to seep out of mines in the province's western basin, and is posing a hazard to residents and the environment.
But the central basin is already threatening to overflow. The toxic water level is 600 m under the city and, should it rise to the surface in 18 months as predicted, the acid water will eat away at the concrete and steel in high-rise building foundations and cause sinkholes.
Munro said his company spent R2-million [US$ 271,640] a month treating 12 megalitres of acid mine drainage a day, but 10 megalitres of untreated toxic water was still flowing into the Krugersdorp Game Reserve and the Tweelopies Spruit every day.
(Times Live July 29, 2010)
Rising acid mine water could be 'catastrophic' for Johannesburg
Millions of litres of highly acidic mine water is rising up under Johannesburg and, if left unchecked, could spill out into its streets some 18 months from now, Parliament's water affairs portfolio committee heard on Wednesday (July 21).
The acid water is currently about 600 metres below the city's surface, but is rising at a rate of between 0.6 and 0.9 metres a day, water affairs deputy director water quality management Marius Keet told MPs.
"[It] can have catastrophic consequences for the Johannesburg central business district if not stopped in time. A new pumping station and upgrades to the high-density sludge treatment works are urgently required to stop disaster," he warned.
Keet said the problem was not just confined to Johannesburg, which is located atop one of several major mining "basins" in the Witwatersrand, known as the Central Basin.
On stopping the growing threat below Johannesburg, Keet said about R220-million [US$ 29 million] was needed to establish pump stations, pipelines and treatment works.
(Mining Weekly July 21, 2010)
South Africa's government commits to address toxic mine run-off on the Witwatersrand
A coalition of environmental scientists and research teams yesterday forced the government's hand in addressing 120 years of water pollution through acid mine drainage on the Witwatersrand.
The coalition, which had been on the verge of taking legal action against the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, said it would reconsider that option after it was given a commitment yesterday that "this is going to be a matter of national priority and will also be run via the National Treasury and the Department of Mineral Resources".
The coalition met with Mbangiseni Nepfumbada (the acting deputy director of policy and regulation at the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs) and toured the western Witwatersrand basin, which includes areas such as Randfontein, Krugersdorp, Kagiso and Western Areas.
The tour revealed that several areas were flooded with acid mine water, which was now flowing on the surface, causing the Tweelopiespruit to be acutely toxic.
(Business Report June 14, 2010)
River of acid mine water threatening Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site?
A massive study is under way to investigate the impact of toxic acid mine water and other dangerous sources of pollution to the world-famous Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.
It is here where the nearly two million-year-old hominid skeleton, Australopithecus sediba, was discovered two years ago, and unveiled to global wonder last week.
But in recent years, several scientists have slammed authorities for failing to protect ancient hominid fossils, including the Sterkfontein Caves. These are made of dolomite rock and vulnerable to acidic water from historic mining operations on the West Rand.
Peter Mills, the acting director of research and planning at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, told the Saturday Star the management authority had commissioned the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Council for Geosciences "to understand the flow of water through the Cradle".
(Saturday Star Apr. 17, 2010)
South African miners get subsidy to treat acid-mine drainage
South Africa's Department of Water Affairs announced on Thursday (Mar. 18) that it had made a R6.9 million subsidy available to assist the mines with the toxic tide of acid mine drainage (AMD) currently decanting in the west rand of Johannesburg.
The subsidy would be used to increase the pumping and treatment capacity of Rand Uranium's and Mintails' water treatment plants, and assist with dosing of the overflow AMD before it entered the water systems in the area.
Rand Uranium CEO John Munro said that the overflow would be dosed with calcium carbonate and calcium hydroxide to partially treat the water before it entered the Krugersdorp Game Reserve.
However, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica noted that this was only an interim solution, as the water still contained high levels of sulphates.
(Mining Weekly Mar. 18, 2010)
Government, mining companies agree on public-private partnership to deal with acid mine water overflow from abandoned West Rand mines
The Department of Water Affairs (DWA) and mining companies have agreed on a model to deal with the Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) challenge that is affecting the Western, Central and Eastern Basins (the Witwatersrand gold fields area).
A non-profit making entity will be set up in a public-private partnership to collect and treat the mine water.
In the meantime, interim measures will be implemented to control decanting from the Western Basin and the anticipated decant from the Central basin. These measures include immediate maximization of pumping and treatment at existing facilities in the Western basin; and utilizing temporary storage facilities to contain any overflows.
(Federation for a Sustainable Environment Feb. 12, 2010)
Acid mine water started overflowing from abandoned West Rand mines; environmental disaster is taking its course
After 120 years of gold mining at the West Rand, thousands of litres of acidic mine water started overflowing from an old ventilation shaft yesterday (Jan. 26). Mariette Liefferink, director of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said that non-governmental organizations and ordinary people have warned the government and the mine about the looming crisis for five years. "Nobody listened and now it is too late." She said the tragedy is immeasurable and the environmental damage irreparable.
(Beeld Jan. 27, 2010)
Acid mine water build-up in abandoned West Rand mines reaches surface with one centimetre to spare; environmental disaster waiting to happen
The Federation for a Sustainable Environment is considering taking the government to court to force it to manage the acid water in abandoned West Rand mines. According to a Beeld report, the situation is now critical.
The 45 million cubic metres of mine cavities mined over 120 years at the West Rand have been gradually filling with millions of litres of water. The water is now just a centimetre from the surface, according to the environmental manager of Rand Uranium, Sarel Keller. If the acid water reaches the surface (possibly to happen within days), it could cause an environmental disaster, he warned.
(Legal Brief Jan. 19, 2010; Beeld Jan. 18, 2010)
Monitoring data confirms uranium contamination from abandoned mines in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area
"[...] This paper explores the impacts mining over the past decade had on U-pollution of water resources in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment. The analysis is mainly based on close to 3400, mostly unpublished, values on U-concentrations of water samples gathered between 1997 and 2008. Results indicate that U-levels in water resources of the whole catchment increased markedly since 1997 even though U-loads emitted by some large gold mines in the Far West Rand were reduced. This apparent contradiction is explained by the contribution of highly polluted water decanting from the flooded mine void in the West Rand. Over the reference period, an average of some 3.5 t of dissolved U have been released into the fluvial system from monitored discharge points alone. However, since Wonderfonteinspruit dries up well before it joins the Mooi River this U-load does not usually impact on the water supply system of downstream Potchefstroom directly. It may, however, indirectly reach Potchefstroom since much of the water from the Wonderfonteinspruit recharges the underlying karst aquifer of the Boskop Turffontein Compartment as the single most important water resource for Potchefstroom. [...]"
Uranium pollution of water resources in mined-out and active goldfields of South Africa - a case study in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment on extent and sources of U-contamination and associated health risks , by Frank Winde, in: Proceedings, International Mine Water Conference, 19-23 Oct. 2009, Pretoria, South Africa, p.772-781 (180k PDF)
Proposed processing of Gauteng acid mine drainage into drinking water draws opposition
One of the options for dealing with Acid mine drainage (AMD) being debated is the Western Utilities Corporation (WUC) project. WUC was commissioned by relevant mining companies in the affected areas to develop a holistic, integrated plan for the treatment of the AMD in the three geological structural basins in Gauteng.
The company developed a five-point plan that includes securing sufficient AMD to feed large-scale water treatment plants on an ongoing basis; the investigation and selection of suitable technology to treat AMD to produce drinking and industrial water, complying with all legal requirements; securing long-term, large-scale users for the drinking and industrial water produced; and raising funding for the project.
The WUC plan envisages the start of plant construction in 2010, with generation of first product early in 2011.
However, water specialist Dr Anthony Turton says that the WUC deal will lock the country into a suboptimal solution. He notes that no process removes 100% of the impurities in AMD 100% of the time.
He suggests that the mine void be used for alternative strategic storage. "This will manage evaporative losses better and will also change the cost-to-benefit ratio of the AMD process, while still protecting the environment, but, more importantly, it will also prevent the human consumption of what is very bad water. It is imprudent to use anything but the best quality feedstock for potable water."
"However, this will not generate the revenues that WUC needs to meet its investors' obligations and this is the only reason why WUC insists it must be sold for drinking purposes. This is our only point of disagreement."
(Mining Weekly Oct. 9, 2009)
Toxic and radioactive mine water poses health nightmare for up to 1000 residents in informal settlements near Johannesburg
Greenbelts, dams, wetlands and a canal that hundreds of people in an informal settlement use for washing, have been identified as radioactive or toxic - within 100km of South Africa's biggest city.
Fifteen sites close to Johannesburg have been named in a 210-page report as being toxic. Some register radiation levels 200 times the legal limit.
However, the pollution could be far worse than the report suggests, according to one of the authors, Professor Frank Winde. He said the document should be used as a basis for further studies.
The report, dated April 30, is circulating in scientific circles and calls for "immediate action" in affected areas. It was compiled by international experts for the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and the National Nuclear Regulator .
One of the authors has called for an operation to save informal communities - estimated to house up to 1000 people - who are using contaminated water at the sites.
Health experts are doing tests in affected areas to assess the exact risks. The hot spots are all part of the Mooi River system and its two main tributaries, the Wonderfonteinspruit and the Loopspruit, west of Johannesburg, in an area that was once the gold mining capital of the world.
Although many are on mine property that is closed to the public, some of the dams have overflowed on to farmland, and others are used by adjacent communities.
These sites include the Tudor Dam near Mogale City and a canal flowing from the West Driefontein gold mine, near Carletonville.
The government says mine companies are mostly liable for the cost of the clean-up. Water Affairs spokesman Marius Keet said a task team would "consider the worst affected sights ... and remediation will then get under way".
Environmental problems west of Johannesburg are largely the result of contaminated sediment and water, collectively called acid mine drainage. When mines close they quickly fill with ground water, which becomes contaminated with uranium, and this spills into river systems.
In the past, pumps kept gold mines largely free of water because most water was pumped to the surface into treatment plants. Now many of the mines have closed or can no longer afford to keep pumping.
(The Times, Johannesburg, July 18, 2009)
Toxic water filling abandoned Randfontein gold/uranium mines may reach surface
Disputes between government and mining companies over the cost of cleaning up the toxic water caused by mining have led to the rapid rise in the water level following the partial closure of a water treatment plant outside Randfontein.
The toxic tide, called acid mine drainage (AMD), has filled an underground void called the Western Basin, which covers hundreds of square kilometres between Krugersdorp and Randfontein.
Department of Water and Environmental Affairs regional director for Gauteng Marius Keet tells Mining Weekly that the water level in the basin has reached a very critical level at 0.6 m below the surface. "It has the potential to start decanting at any moment. The decant of AMD into the Tweelopies Spruit would sterilise the total system downstream."
(Mining Weekly July 10, 2009)
South African Government releases Remediation Action Plan for the Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment Area
From the executive summary:
"... a team of specialists was appointed to advise the authorities on the prioritisation of the Areas of Intervention for which remediation is required. The Specialists Task Team went through a process of identifying 36 Areas of
Intervention by focusing on sites that could be impacted on by water-borne radioactive material within the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment and could potentially be a public health hazard." [...]
"The strategic approach adopted for this report involves a categorisation of sites into 5 categories." [...]
"Fifteen sites fall into Category 1 where there is no reason to delay immediate action, of which the Lancaster Dam (MP46) is the most urgent."
Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment Area: Remediation Action Plan, Final Draft Report , prepared for the Department Water Affairs and Forestry and the National Nuclear Regulator, by Dr. Martin van Veelen et al., April 2009 (6.6MB PDF)
South African government denies health hazard from contaminated water in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area - despite scientific evidence presented at international conference
According to press reports, the Department of Water Affairs claimed on Sep. 17, 2008, that "radioactive waste outside mining areas in the catchment of the Wonderfonteinspruit poses no risk to the public, according to experts." The experts had been brought in by the department and the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR). (IOL, Sep. 17, 2008)
However, just one day earlier, scientific evidence of such health hazard had been presented at an international conference:
"Abstract. Real and perceived risks due to gold and uranium mining in the West Rand and Far West Rand goldfields of South Africa have led to intense and sometimes heated public debate. In this context, it is critical to present results of such investigations carefully in a neutral format. The format for reporting in the current study was that of a Tier-II risk assessment, as routinely implemented by the US EPA. Sources, release and fate and transport mechanisms have been investigated and integrated with identified pathways to the local communities. An unacceptable level of risk has been identified, primarily due to the chemical toxicity of uranium on ingestion via drinking water." [emphasis added]
Risk Assessment of Uranium in Selected Gold Mining Areas in South Africa, by Peter Wade and Henk Coetzee, Council for Geoscience, paper presented at Uranium Mining and Hydrogeology V , Freiberg (Sachsen), Germany Sep. 14-18, 2008
Regulator denies water and foodstuffs in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area are radioactive - despite scientific reports
The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) sought yesterday to allay concern about radioactive contamination of water and foodstuffs in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area.
CE Maurice Magugumela disputed reports that vegetables and fish from west of Johannesburg tested for radiological contamination exceeding internationally acceptable benchmarks.
He said the products were safe to eat but this is contradicted by several scientific reports submitted on the radiological status of the area - one a report commissioned by the NNR and conducted by the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA. An observer said the denials suggested a whitewash of the looming crisis in the area.
"The NNR has a statutory duty to protect the population. If it states that there is a problem it would be tantamount to admission of a dereliction of duty," the source said.
(Business Day Feb. 8, 2008)
Excessive concentrations of radioactive substances found in vegetables grown near South African gold/uranium mines
Radioactive levels three times higher than permitted have been found in vegetables grown in wetlands in the Wonderfonteinspruit area between Randfontein and Potchefstroom, Beeld newspaper reported on Feb. 2, 2008.
It cited what it described as "shocking revelations" on Feb. 1, 2008, in a report by the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) drawn up at the request of the National Nuclear Regulator some time back, but only released now.
The newspaper said tests on asparagus, oats and onions produced in the Gerhard Minne wetlands showed that the level of radioactive substances was three times higher than the safe permissible level for human consumption.
Pointing out that intensive gold mining takes place in the area - and that uranium as a by-product is found in mine dumps there - the news report said large tracts of land in the area of the Wonderfonteinspruit were 150 times more radioactive than the permitted level.
It quoted an unidentified spokesperson for the National Nuclear Regulator as saying that the test results in the report were worrying.
(Independent Online Feb. 2, 2008)
Excerpt from the Technical Report:
5.3 Results of dose calculations
[...] The doses calculated for "realistic" exposure pathways range over four orders of magnitude from about 0.01 mSv to 138 mSv per annum. For approximately 50% of the 47 sampling sites, the calculated incremental doses of the respective critical group are above 1 mSv per annum. [...]
[...] the exposure pathways that are specified as "potential" may significantly contribute to incremental doses at some sites. After taking them into account, at approximately 75% of the 47 sites the calculated incremental doses of the respective critical group are above 1 mSv per annum. [...]
> Download summary report:
Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment Area Public Report, Results and Corrective Actions ,
National Nuclear Regulator, WCA Report, No. TR-NTNS-07-0001, 23 p., (8.7MB PDF)
> Download full report:
Radiological Impacts of the Mining Activities to the Public in the Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment Area, National Nuclear Regulator, No. TR-RRD-07-0006, 12 July 2007:
South African gold/uranium mines causing excessive uranium concentrations in streams and stream sediments
Large gold-mining companies operating to the west of South Africa's commercial centre, Johannesburg, stand accused of contaminating a number of water sources with radioactive pollutants.
One case involves the Wonderfontein Spruit ("water course", in Afrikaans): a stream that runs 90 kilometres from the outskirts of Johannesburg to the south-west past the towns of Krugersdorp, Bekkersdal, Carletonville and Khutsong, before flowing into the Mooi River near Potchefstroom.
Mariette Liefferink, an environmental activist, blames the mines for the high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, copper cobalt and zinc in the waters of the spruit. She is particularly troubled by the levels of uranium, which gives off radioactive by-products such as polonium and lead.
"The Wonderfontein Spruit is of major concern to us because every year the gold mines discharge 50 tonnes of uranium into the receiving water course. The Water Research Commission (a parastatal research body) has found that there are approximately 1,100 milligrammes per kilogramme [sediment] of uranium in the upper Wonderfontein Spruit, and 900 milligrammes per kilogramme [sediment] in the lower Wonderfontein Spruit area."
[These concentrations are by far higher than those in the ores mined in the area!]
In 2002, acidic water began decanting out of a disused mine on Randfontein Estates about 42 kilometres south-west of Johannesburg. The property belonged at that time to Harmony Gold.
Water coming out of the disused mine in Randfontein could not simply be channelled into the nearest river because it was far too acidic and could have had serious consequences for the environment.
As an emergency measure, Harmony fed the water into Robinson Lake, at that time a popular recreational area where fishing was a favourite pastime. Today the lake has very high levels of uranium and a pH level of 2.2, which makes it as acidic as lemon juice and completely incapable of sustaining any life forms.
The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) measured in the water a uranium concentration of 16 milligrammes per litre, obliging it to declare Robinson Lake a radiation area.
[this is 800 times the 20 micrograms per litre drinking water standard applicable in many countries!]
(Inter Press Service Dec. 3, 2007)
Regulator withholds report on serious contamination of water and food from mining activities in Gauteng
Meat, fish, milk, maize and other crops produced near Wonderfontein Spruit in Gauteng are probably harmful to people as they are seriously contaminated by, among others, radioactive pollutants.
This pollution, resulting from overflow from sludge dams during 100 years of mining, affects the area between Randfontein and Potchefstroom, where more than 400,000 people live.
International experts say people who eat or drink these products could suffer liver or kidney failure or get cancer. It could also hamper children's growth and cause mental disability.
According to findings in a report compiled by German physicists under Dr Rainer Barthel from Brenk Systemplanung's South African subsidiary BS Associates Ltd, the water from the Wonderfontein Spruit, which was used to irrigate the crops, had absorbed polonium and lead, the radioactive by products of uranium and radium.
Cattle drinking from the Wonderfontein Spruit that churned up the uranium-rich mud, were also contaminated by these radioactive pollutants. Their meat and milk would also probably be poisonous.
People in towns in this area received their drinking water from Rand Water, but people on farms and informal settlements were reliant on water from Wonderfontein Spruit.
The report was compiled on request of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), who refused to make the contents known for the past three months. Maurice Magugumela, chief official of the NNR, upon enquiry said "there is no reason for concern".
Barthel was prevented from delivering two speeches from the report at the Environmin 2007 conference held on July 22 - 26, 2007, titled "Radiological Risks of cattle watering at polluted surface water bodies in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area", and "Radiological impact assessment of mining activities in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area". He had to withdraw these speeches at short notice.
Sandy Carroll, environmental manager at Harmony Gold Mining Co. Limited , admitted that the mining groups were informed about the dangers indicated in the report. She said Harmony was talking to NNR and they were together seeking solutions.
The West Rand district municipality planned to erect notices warning people along the Wonderfontein Spruit (which runs for 100 km) not to use the water.
Carroll replied in an e-mail to Beeld's enquiries: "Alternative water sources will be suggested."
The report stressed that there was no natural water in the whole area that was safe for use by humans, animals or plants.
(News24 July 31, 2007)
Effort needed to stop poisoning of water from old mines
A water expert says a major and broad-based effort is required to stop the poisoning of water supplies in parts of Gauteng by old mines. Concerns are growing about a number of toxins, including radioactive uranium, finding their way into Gauteng's groundwater.
The Eastern and Western catchment areas of the Vaal Dam are already receiving toxic water from old mines.
Gary Small, a hydrogeologist, says this problem is potentially serious and so large that not one organisation can deal with it. "This is a kind of disaster that could happen that requires the kind of response that we saw with the Tsunami. We need a spontaneous, collaborative effort to sort this thing out."
(South African Broadcasting Corporation, March 01, 2005)
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Government puts mining companies on notice to ensure groundwater pumping at bancrupt Hartebeestfontein gold/uranium mine
The recent liquidation of DRDGold's Hartebeestfontein and Buffelsfontein gold mines means someone has to take responsibility for pumping 28-million litres of water a day out of an underground lake to prevent downstream mines from flooding.
AngloGold, whose Ashanti operation is downhill from DRDGold's mines, says it will cost it R85-million [US $13.8 million] a year if it has to take over the pumping responsibilities. Moreover, the pumping facilities 1km underground are in such a bad state of repair that steel pipes carrying water to the surface could "blow any day now" if repairs are not carried out soon. James Duncan, spokesperson for DRDGold, said it was ridiculous to expect a bankrupt mine to continue bearing the responsibility of pumping to keep other mines profitable, while deriving no benefit.
The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has put the squabbling mines on notice to find a solution within two weeks, or else the government would institute one for them.
(The Star April 12, 2005)
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Windblown dust still an issue at Randfontein tailings
Harmony Gold invested Rand 2.5 million (US$ 382,650) during 2007 in an effort to control dust pollution at its Randfontein operations.
In 2006, the company had spent Rand 4.7 million (US$ 719,380), after the company received complaints from Randfontein residents, that the dust from the mine dumps constituted a nuisance and a health hazard.
The average dust fall-out, at ten sampling stations in Randfontein, was about 500 milligrams per square metre and day in 2005, before dust suppression measures were implemented. The average dust fall-out was reduced to less than 200 milligrams per square metre and day during 2006, and about 230 milligrams per square metre and day during 2007. The intermediate dust suppression measures include the wetting of slimes dams, reed screening and ridge ploughing. Earlier attempts to bind the windblown material by application of different palliatives had been unsuccessful.
As a long-term measure, "vegetation or possible reclamation is being considered".
(Mining Weekly Nov. 2, 2007)
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