Comments are attached for download.
Comments are attached for download.
FSE'S COMMENTS ON MINE WASTE SOLUTIONS' KAREERAND TAILINGS STORAGE FACILITY EXPANSION PROJECT SCOPING REPORT
Comments are attached for download.
NEWS / 25 OCTOBER 2019, 10:04PM / SHEREE BEGA A decision by the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs setting aside the environmental approval for a planned open-cast coal mine on the East Rand has been hailed as "excellent" for the region. In her decision on October 20, Minister Barbara Creecy stated that it was vital that commercial agriculture be safeguarded in the Springs/Nigel area. Local resident, business and environmental groups had appealed the Department of Mineral Resources' (DMR) approval of the integrated environmental authorisation for the proposed Palmietkuilen coal mine in March this year. Creecy has now upheld their appeal, setting aside the DMR's decision. The Grootvaly Blesbokspruit Conservation Trust, the Largo and Groovaly AH Residents and Businesses, Aston Lake Community and the Springs Nigel branch of the Wildlife and Environment Society of SA, were among the organisations who had brought seven appeals against the project. In August 2016, Anglo Operations, on behalf of Canyon Coal, applied to build the open-pit coal mine. The project is anticipated to have a life of mine of 47 years, with the anticipated production of 2 400 000 tons of coal per year to supply local and international markets. The proposed mine is upstream of the Blesbokspruit, which feeds the Marievale Bird Sanctuary in Springs and flows into the Vaal. It is a designated a Ramsar wetland of international importance. In her appeal decision, Creecy notes how Hugo Arthur de Koningh, the second appellant in the matter, argued that agricultural land "has to disappear for the sake of economic development" and expressed concern that "food security became more threatened". Creecy agreed."While I am aware of the social benefits of the proposed mining, I find that such does not outweigh the need to to protect and preserve the prime agricultural land. "The said area has been utilised for agricultural activities for generations and can go on to be used for such provided soil disturbances are avoided." "One of the biggest threats to the retention of productive agricultural land is the conflict between agriculture and mining land uses. With the matter at hand, I find that it is vital to preserve the current land use, mainly commercial agriculture," Creecy said. "This is excellent news for Springs and the farmers of our area and our thanks to all who participated in the seven appeals that were lodged," said the attorney in the case, Philip De Jager. "I would, however, point out that the applicant is entitled to have this decision judicially reviewed." Local environmentalist Stan Madden, the "father of the Blesbokspruit", welcomed Creecy's decision. "I was one of the group of organisations (Springs-Nigel branch of Wessa) that were against the environmental authorisation in the Palmietkuilen area. "I and others are very pleased with the Minister's decision not to grant this authorisation. It does give a little hope for the future of this sensitive wetland and agricultural heartland, Madden said. Mariette Liefferink, the CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said it was "heartened" by Creecy's decision to uphold the appeal by interested and affected parties and to set aside the decision by the DMR. "It demonstrates the power of active citizenry to ensure that development is ecological sustainable and economically justifiable. "With South Africa being a water scarce country, with a rapid population growth that consumes a substantial amount of food and water, and vulnerable to the potential impacts of climate change and climate variability, the proposed open cast coal mine would have compromised sustainability and would have exceeded environmental tipping points," she said. In their appeals, residents cited how an objection by the then Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries against the loss of high agricultural land was ignored by the DMR. On September 25, comments were provided to Creecy by the now Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, indicating that the proposed mining activity is located within a proposed protected agricultural area, which has a priority rating of B. "According to DALRRD, this means that this area is regarded as high potential agricultural land, which should be protected for agricultural production purposes," Creecy noted. The directorate of spatial information management within Creecy's department was requested to do a screening of the proposed mining area, "which confirms that the site comprises mainly very sensitive agricultural areas", she said. The DMR had stated that the impact on agricultural land was considered and assessed and studies had shown how the proposed mining activity "will have minimal and acceptable impacts on food security". The Saturday Star
According the Draft Water and Sanitation Master Plan, high water yield areas constitute only 4% of South Africa’s surface area and are the water factories of the country. Currently only 18% of them have any form of formal protection. Furthermore, 57% of river ecosystem types and 65% of wetland eco system types are threatened, making wetlands the most threatened of all ecosystems. In view of the above mentioned threats, the FSE, a member of the Coalition, who defended the protection of the Enkangala-Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area, where Atha Proposes to mine coal, salutes the latest decision by the Constitutional Court. Press statement attached. Constitutional Court rejects coal mining company's attempt to ... Fin24-13 hours ago In a short, sharp smack-down, the Constitutional Court has rejected an attempt by would-be coal mining company Atha-Africa Ventures to draw ... ConCourt overturns Zwane, Molewa's permission to mine in ... SowetanLIVE-18 Nov 2019 The Constitutional Court has had the final say on the approval of a coal mine ... In February, the high court refused Atha-Africa's leave... TimesLIVE Constitutional Court dismisses mine company bid to mine in ... DispatchLIVE-18 Nov 2019 Earlier this month the Constitutional Court refused mining company Atha Africa's final challenge of a 2018 high court decision to set... 'Significant victory' for the environment in Concourt hailed Independent Online-19 Nov 2019 Cape Town – Environmentalists have hailed a decision by the Constitutional Court to dismiss Atha Africa's leave to appeal against...
Successful Appeal against the Decision to Grant an Integrated Environmental Authorisation to Anglo Operations (Pty) Ltd in respect of a Mining Right Application relating to opencast coal mining on Farm Palmietkuilen. The FSE assisted and supported the 1st and 3rd Appellants, namely Largo and Grootvaly A H Residents and Businesses and the Grootvaly Blesbokspruit Conservation Trust with their Appeals. Appeal decision attached.
SATURDAY STAR article written by Sheree Bega - "Mintails mining site reduced to rubble" “Look, there’s nothing left,” said the heavily armed security guard as he pointed to what remained of Mintails’ gold treatment plants, offices and adjacent infrastructure: rubble. Read the rest of the article here. Watch the SABC2 Mintails coverage here. Notice of motion and affidavit issued by the FSE attached for referral.
SATURDAY STAR NEWS / 31 AUGUST 2019, 4:55PM / SHEREE BEGA Mariette Liefferink, chief executive of the Federation for a Sustaiable Environment, has described Mintails Group’s Krugersdorp and Randfontein mining activities as one of South Africa’s ‘worst environmental catastrophes’. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya Johannesburg - As a heavy wind blows over the West Rand, clouds of dust swirl from clusters of barren mine dumps towering over both sides of Main Reef Road, turning the skyline a ghostly white. It’s a bleak scene that environmental justice activist Mariette Liefferink knows all too well. “This is all Mintails’ and just look at how it’s been left,” says the chief executive of the non-profit Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), gesturing to the unrehabilitated dumps. She drives under a bridge, teetering over the busy road. The structure is collapsing from ongoing spillages during Mintails' operations, she says. But after a decade of government inaction against the Mintails Group, the FSE has now turned to the courts to deal with what Liefferink describes as one of South Africa’s “worst environmental catastrophes”, left behind by the liquidated gold mining and tailings processing company that was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. The FSE, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, has filed a landmark lawsuit against the Mintails Group, its liquidators, the ministers of Mineral Resources, Water and Sanitation, Trade and Industry, and Environmental Affairs as well as Mogale City local municipality in the North Gauteng High Court. In total, 34 respondents are cited in the litigation which seeks criminal charges against the firm's directors. In her founding affidavit, Liefferink warns how the mining activities of the “chronically poorly managed” firm spanning Krugersdorp and Randfontein will have “catastrophic consequences” for taxpayers, future generations, the natural environment and human health". Mintails applied for business rescue in October 2015, but was liquidated in September last year. It has an unfunded environmental liability of R485million, but only around R25m financial provision in its environmental rehabilitation funds. This will now be “externalised to the state, neighbouring mines, a mute environment, financially beleaguered local municipalities and communities characterised by widespread poverty and future generations”, reads her founding affidavit. “The overall tab will be picked up by overburdened taxpayers who have little say in the ongoing corporate malevolence of the group.” Liefferink details the firm’s “wholesale neglect” of its environmental responsibilities. This includes the “widespread abandoning of overseeing adequate and sufficient monitoring, mitigation, preservation, oversight, planning, and concurrent rehabilitation as part of their overall mining activities”. It reclaimed only the profitable sections of the dumps, failing to rehabilitate any footprints. “The Mintails Group have failed to complete the mining, removed the underground pillars (containing residual gold), failed to backfill and rehabilitate open pits and failed to secure the sites. “Several polluted highly contaminated dams and open pits are easily accessible to school children, churchgoers and community members. These dams are toxic and potentially radioactive. “I've witnessed churchgoers being baptised in these toxic swell pools and children swimming in them on hot summer days. Certain people have died - the mining area is open and an exceptionally dangerous area to be in.” There is no signage, walling, fencing or lighting on the mined-out land and there has been "sporadic” dust control. Polluted water from unrehabilated footprints and dumps has not been captured in lined pollution control dams. “The (firm’s) footprint has had a profound impact on surrounding wetlands as well as the catchment area. There have been ongoing spillages of acid mine drainage water and slurry, which has allowed acid mine water to seep from cracks in the pollution control dams into rivers and surrounding wetlands. "There has been inadequate maintenance of the pipes and pollution control dams by the Mintails Group,” the affidavit reads. Wetlands have become “potentially radioactive toxic dump lands” and the applicable mining area is now “ecologically dead”. In 2009, the former Department of Water Affairs and the National Nuclear Regulator flagged Mintails for allowing acutely toxic water and slimes to migrate to the wetlands downstream of Lancaster Dam, part of the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment, the richest gold mining area in the world. “The Wonderfonteinspruit is used for irrigation, watering of cattle, baptisms, recreational use, domestic use and at times for drinking purposes. It flows downstream into the Boskop Dam, supplying water to 400 000 people in Potchefstroom," the affidavit reads. "That Lancaster Dam has been allowed to deteriorate in the manner it has by the Mintails operation presents a direct risk to life and limb.” But the relevant state departments failed to enforce legally binding conditions for the firm’s mining and environmental reports. The Department of Mineral Resources should never have afforded the firm the right to operate without the necessary financial provisions. “The Mintails Group has over the years argued it will ‘top up’ the financial provisions during the life of mine. It was on this basis that the Mintails Group were granted certain mining rights The financial provision has not materialised at all and if any, the areas has been wholly unrehabilitated.” The FSE wants the court to order the various ministers to remediate and rehabilitate the environment by enforcing current directives and compliance notices against the directors and to “recover” funds from them to clean up degraded sites. “Some subsidiaries have ‘shifted’ assets and liabilities between subsidiaries. This includes shifting a mining right (asset) to one subsidiary, whereas the environmental liability associated with the activities of the mining right has been shifted to another subsidiary with the entity holding the liability falling under business rescue and liquidation,” the affidavit states. “It needs to be investigated whether the dispositions in the Mintails Group, specific to shifting assets and liabilities and ‘moving’ an environmental liability in the region of hundreds of millions of rands, was done for value and whether this was done fraudulently, alternatively recklessly and further alternatively with an intent to defraud creditors." Liefferink details how the FSE has “literally begged” government departments to take action, “tirelessly submitting report after report” and conducting “well over 1 000” physical site inspections, to no avail. “Despite issuing numerous pre-directives and directives and despite the FSE laying criminal charges (in 2014 against Mintails for non-compliance) the group and its board of directors in particular, have been allowed to carry on with business as usual. “Without the relief sought, none of the roleplayers will even attempt to remediate and/or rehabilitate the environment. The sequence of events has been to to pass the buck, blame other departments and obfuscate.” The state must “immediately do all things necessary, to cordon off affected mining areas and (ensure) safety mechanisms be adopted to safeguard the general public”. “Indeed,” warns Liefferink, “people have already died and there exists an ongoing risk of poor public health, environmental catastrophe and even death regarding the areas and activities referred to, to the broader public.” The Ministers of Minerals and Energy, Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation and the latter department's deputy director general have indicated their intention to oppose the matter. Liefferink says the FSE's application is vital to address the governance of a company, “when the main benefactors of mining activities sit overseas and whereas the devastating consequences of their corporate greed is left to the poorest of the poor and overburdened taxpayers where the state has to intervene to prevent further degradation. “The directors of Mintails need to be interrogated for their involvement in one of the country’s worst environmental catastrophes and to account to the public for their corporate decisions.”
Photographs of FSE's tour of the West rand gold field on the 31st of August 2019 with Law Faculty students (LLB & LLM) of the University of Pretoria and Senior Lecturer Melanie Murcott. All photographs taken by Melanie Murcott.
Watch the video of SABC News' coverage on the Mintails liquidation and subsequent looting of the mines here.
FSE's COMMENTS ON: CLOSURE OF PROSPECTING RIGHTS_DOORNSPRUIT 84 JQ / ROODEKRAALSPRUIT 113 JQ AND KLIPGATKOP 115 JQ
Comments attached for download.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION DOCUMENT FOR COAL, PSEUDOCOAL & TORBORNITE MINING RIGHT APPLICATION, INTEGRATED WATER USE LICENSE APPLICATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL AUTHORISATION
Background information document for coal, pseudocoal & torbornite mining right application, integrated water use license application and environmental authorisation, all portions (excluding portion 46, 74,& 90) of the farm Tenbosch 162 JU, all portions (excluding portion 01) of the farm Vyeboom 414 JU, all portions of the farm Turfbult 593 JU and all portions of the farm Tecklenburg's Ranch 548 JU, in the Magisterial district of Barberton, Mpumalanga Province. Document attached for download.
DRAFT SCOPING REPORT FOR LISTED ACTIVITIES ASSOCIATED WITH THE RECLAMATION AND REPROCESSING OF THE SOWETO CLUSTER DUMPS IN JOHANNESBURG, GAUTENG PROVINCE
The Draft Scoping Report is attached for download.
ENVIRONMENTAL AUTHORISATION PROCESS FOR THE MIDDELVLEI MINE, RANDFONTEIN, GAUTENG MIDDELVLEI MINERALS (PTY) LTD
Attached is a document compiled by the FSE for the Environmental authorisation process for the Middlevlei mine, Randfontein.
The following related articles are attached: Environmental Compliance: Are government and industry doing enough? Mynhuis sal Potch se drinkwater vernietig Hair-raising uranium levels found
Jozi Gold - a story of wealth, greed and poisonous mountains. Johannesburg has produced a third of all gold mined in history. Now the gold is running out, the mines are falling apart and toxic waste turns water into poison. Former Jehovah’s Witness Mariette Liefferink is on a mission to force the mine bosses to clean up. Directors Fredrik Gertten and Sylvia Vollenhoven, based on an original story by Adam Welz. Official trailer with English titles. View here.
Publication of the International Agency on Research on Cancer's results of its U measurement study within the Witwatersrand gold fields
The Federation for a Sustainable Environment with its close links to the communities, has aided the IARC to identify barber shops in each ward serving local customers of both sexes (except in Azaadville, where the chosen barber turned out to serve only men) and to collect 1600 samples of human hair. The IARC has launched the results on its website. View them here. The full report is attached for download.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE AVAILABLE HERE. Documentary Jozi Gold had its world premiere at the 21st Encounters South African International Documentary Festival this week, and some of what it revealed about mining pollution is truly shocking. Grethe Kemp reviews the film. Jozi Gold Directors: Sylvia Vollenhoven, Fredrik Gertten 4 stars Johannesburg is the most uranium contaminated city on Earth. These and other shocking truths are revealed in new documentary Jozi Gold directed by South African writer, award-winning journalist, playwright and film maker Sylvia Vollenhoven and award-winning Swedish director and journalist Fredrik Gertten. By focusing on the dogged efforts of environmental activist Mariette Liefferink, we are shown how Johannesburg’s mines have contaminated virtually everything in our city – from the water, to the air, to the ground. While some communities live on radioactive land, others struggle with water laden with heavy metals. But all of us – yes, every single Joburger – is affected by the mining fall-out in some way. The problem is that we don’t even fully know what it’s doing to us. Liefferink herself is the kind of subject film makers dream of. The documentary’s opening shot sees her traipsing around an excavated field in sky-high heels, dressed to a tee in black tights, an orange blazer and plenty of jewellery. Read more: Mariette has 'em shell-shocked A soft-spoken tannie with a clipped Afrikaans accent and coiffed blonde hair, she tells us later that she used to be a Jehovah’s Witness, so she’s used to be being “severely disliked”. And dislike is a feeling she must drum up, as she chases down the CEOs of mining companies and holds the government department officials to account for exposing people to hazardous mining pollution. Liefferink says she sees herself as a marathon runner instead of a sprinter, because her work requires a great deal of stamina. In one scene, we watch her patiently phone a government department to lay a complaint about the discharge of untreated mine water into a river system. It’s the 10th time she’s phoning, and she’s again sent from pillar to post. She hangs up cordially, then blinks away tears. But hounding the government officials – too often unsuccessfully – is not her primary work. Liefferink believes that environmental and social justice are inextricably linked, and she works with communities to hold mining companies to account. In one case, she laid a criminal complaint at the local police against the former owner of the Blyvoor mine, for numerous environmental infractions committed between 2008 and this year. She didn’t think anything would come of it, but to her surprise, the state decided to prosecute the mining directors responsible. It’s a huge victory for the Blyvoor community, which has been dealing with the effects of mining pollution for years. A third of all the gold in human history was mined in Johannesburg, and it was what gave birth to the city. But now we’re dealing with an environmental crisis that few of us even know the extent of. Jozi Gold is a superbly shot documentary that we should all see. And Mariette Liefferink is someone who we should all know about, and support. ORIGINAL ARTICLE AVAILABLE HERE.
WATCH: illegal miners hit Mintails mine on West Rand here. PODCAST: Abandoned mines in South Africa are causing a safety and health risk here.
The Appeal Authority in terms of Section 43(6) of the NEMA has decided to set aside the decision of the DMR to grant an Environmental Authorisation to the Applicant for the prospecting of coal on farm Golden Valley within the magisterial district of Magaliesburg. The FSE and the Magaliesburg Community Forum lodged appeals against the Environmental Authorisation by the DMR.
MINING WEEKLY Unfolding environmental disaster 4TH JUNE 2019 BY: AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY A security company responsible for safeguarding a gold treatment plant belonging to Mintails on the West Rand withdrew last week, citing “financial constraints”. The evacuation, which follows the liquidation of the embattled mining company and its subsidiaries, has left the door wide open to zama-zamas and looters, who are plundering the facility and driving their stash off the premises by the bakkie load. “This is wholesale looting and scavenging of anything of value from copper cables to sheets of metal,” warned environmental activist Mariette Liefferink. “The site is under the control of heavily armed [illegal] miners who control all access to the plant.” Watching the activity from a distance, the men and women carrying tools and blowtorches clearly know what they are doing, creating the impression that this is organised crime. This past weekend climbers, equipped with ropes, scaled the infrastructure of the upper plant. “Steel construction was falling like nobody’s business,” said an eyewitness. “The liquidators appear to have lost all interest in securing these assets.” GUNFIGHTS The situation has descended into anarchy. The looters are not shy to shoot and in the past week, there have been several gunfights when looters felt security or outsiders were encroaching on “their” site. Even the police are scared to intervene. According to witnesses, the authorities have done nothing given the dangers and the large numbers of looters at the facility. “The Hawks have been fearful to get involved with the result that this is now a free-for-all. The looting continues with no enforcement whatsoever,” said Liefferink. She said the most worrying aspect of the looting was the cutting and stealing of a neighbouring electrical cable to Shaft 9 – this cable powers the pump station that removes acid mine water out of the shaft and into a nearby acid mine drainage treatment plant. Millions of litres of water are pumped daily to prevent the acid mine water reaching the surface and decanting into the surrounding Cradle of Humankind. Sputnik Ratau, the spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, confirmed that the cable was sabotaged and stolen on 24 May. “Power to the Western Basin acid mine drainage (AMD) pump station, on Mintails’s property, and the AMD Treatment Plant is thus compromised and the facility is currently not operational,” said Ratau. “If the pumping stops for a prolonged period, like a month, we run the risk of a decant of toxic and radioactive acid mine water into the surrounding Cradle of Humankind.” The underlying rock structure in the Cradle is porous dolomite and the acid mine water could dissolve the rock, destroying valuable fossils in this Unesco World Heritage site, which is internationally recognised for its hominid finds. This would have serious implications for tourism in the area and would inevitably mean job losses. “Especially for Bolt’s Farm and the Sterkfontein Caves that contain our most precious fossils and we will see an acceleration in the number of sinkholes forming as a result,” said Liefferink. SERIOUS RISK Many of the residents along the water system would be affected by a decant – their water would be contaminated and their health put at serious risk because they do not have access to municipal water. “The people there are dependent on the water systems for their drinking water, for their animals and for irrigation,” says Liefferink. The pump station was established by the Department of Water and Sanitation in response to a potential decant. According to Liefferink, in 2002 the western basin in the area where the mine is situated flooded, leaving acid mine water to flow out with devastating consequences. It resulted in the Tweelopies Spruit and Wonderfontein Spruit becoming radioactive hotspots and acutely toxic, putting lives downstream at risk. “The Department of Water and Sanitation declared it an emergency. They refurbished the treatment plant which pumps and processes around 40-million litres of acid mind water a day,” said Liefferink. Her other worry is that the gold treatment plant is the only real asset left and this wholesale looting does not augur well for the recovery of the R460-million environmental liability that Mintails left on the West Rand. This amount was cited in the Parliamentary portfolio committee report by the Department of Minerals and Energy last year. But the Department of Water and Sanitation said there was no immediate risk of raw AMD decanting. “The water level in the void is around 9-metres below the surface and this is considered ample buffer capacity for now,” said Ratau. He added that the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA), a State-owned entity charged with financing and implementing bulk raw water infrastructure projects, is working closely with Sibanye-Stillwater and Eskom to restore the cable. This could be achieved by as early as Tuesday (June 4). Alternative interventions are also being costed so as to achieve a permanent remedy and for armed security personnel to be deployed at the pump station to deter future attempts of cabletheft or other damage to the pump station.
The South African Health News Service Mintails mining company and its subsidiaries have left the door open to zama-zamas and looters at their abandoned mine in the West Rand. Picture: Health-e News Unfolding environmental disaster Bernadette Maguire June 4, 2019 Features Zama zamas are looting an abandoned mine near Krugersdorp. In the process, they have cut the electric cable to the acid mine drainage which poses the environment and the health hazards. A security company responsible for safeguarding a gold treatment plant belonging to Mintails on the West Rand withdrew last week, citing “financial constraints”. The evacuation, which follows the liquidation of the embattled mining company and its subsidiaries, has left the door wide open to zama-zamas and looters, who are plundering the facility and driving their stash off the premises by the bakkie load. “This is wholesale looting and scavenging of anything of value from copper cables to sheets of metal,” warned environmental activist Mariette Liefferink. “The site is under the control of heavily armed [illegal] miners who control all access to the plant.” Watching the activity from a distance, the men and women carrying tools and blowtorches clearly know what they are doing, creating the impression that this is organised crime. This past weekend climbers, equipped with ropes, scaled the infrastructure of the upper plant. Zama zamas are stripping an old mine of anything from copper cables to sheets of metal. Photo: Health-e News. “Steel construction was falling like nobody’s business,” said an eyewitness. “The liquidators appear to have lost all interest in securing these assets.” Gunfights The situation has descended into anarchy. The looters are not shy to shoot and in the past week, there have been several gunfights when looters felt security or outsiders were encroaching on “their” site. Even the police are scared to intervene. According to witnesses, the authorities have done nothing given the dangers and the large numbers of looters at the facility. “The Hawks have been fearful to get involved with the result that this is now a free-for-all. The looting continues with no enforcement whatsoever,” said Liefferink. She said the most worrying aspect of the looting was the cutting and stealing of a neighbouring electrical cable to Shaft 9 – this cable powers the pump station that removes acid mine water out of the shaft and into a nearby acid mine drainage treatment plant. Millions of litres of water are pumped daily to prevent the acid mine water reaching the surface and decanting into the surrounding Cradle of Humankind. If the acid mine drainage at Mintails’s mine decants the impact on environment and health could be devastating. Photo: Health-e News Sputnik Ratau, the spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, confirmed that the cable was sabotaged and stolen on 24 May. “Power to the Western Basin AMD pump station, on Mintails’s property, and the AMD (Acid Mine Drainage) Treatment Plant is thus compromised and the facility is currently not operational,” said Ratau. “If the pumping stops for a prolonged period, like a month, we run the risk of a decant of toxic and radioactive acid mine water into the surrounding Cradle of Humankind.” The underlying rock structure in the Cradle is porous dolomite and the acid mine water could dissolve the rock, destroying valuable fossils in this UNESCO World Heritage site, which is internationally recognised for its hominid finds. This would have serious implications for tourism in the area and would inevitably mean job losses. “Especially for Bolt’s Farm and the Sterkfontein Caves that contain our most precious fossils and we will see an acceleration in the number of sinkholes forming as a result,” said Liefferink. Serious risk Many of the residents along the water system would be affected by a decant – their water would be contaminated and their health put at serious risk because they do not have access to municipal water. “The people there are dependent on the water systems for their drinking water, for their animals and for irrigation,” says Liefferink. The pump station was established by the Department of Water and Sanitation in response to a potential decant. According to Liefferink, in 2002 the western basin in the area where the mine is situated flooded, leaving acid mine water to flow out with devastating consequences. It resulted in the Tweelopies Spruit and Wonderfontein Spruit becoming radioactive hotspots and acutely toxic, putting lives downstream at risk. Potential water contamination. Photo: Health-e News “The Department of Water and Sanitation declared it an emergency. They refurbished the treatment plant which pumps and processes around 40-million litres of acid mind water a day,” said Liefferink. Her other worry is that the gold treatment plant is the only real asset left and this wholesale looting does not augur well for the recovery of the R460-million environmental liability that Mintails left on the West Rand. This amount was cited in the Parliamentary portfolio committee report by the Department of Minerals and Energy last year. But the Department of Water and Sanitation said there was no immediate risk of raw AMD decanting. “The water level in the void is around 9-metres below the surface and this is considered ample buffer capacity for now,” said Ratau. He added that the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA), a state-owned entity charged with financing and implementing bulk raw water infrastructure projects, is working closely with Sibanye Stillwater and Eskom to restore the cable. This could be achieved by as early as Tuesday (4 June). Alternative interventions are also being costed so as to achieve a permanent remedy and for armed security personnel to be deployed at the pump station to deter future attempts of cable theft or other damage to the pump station. Trail of destruction Mintails has left a veritable trail of destruction: the area is now characterised by deep, scarring opencast pits, massive unrehabilitated dumps and large bodies of toxic acid mine water. Very little was ever done to remediate the environment after they stripped the gold from the earth and recovered gold from the dumps. Massive cement pipes containing toxic mine tailings residue have been dug up and lie littered for kilometres. These pose a serious risk to the health of communities living around these mines. According to a 2013 study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), exposure to acid mine water has serious health consequences, including an elevated risk of cancer and heavy metal poisoning. The CSIR concluded that an epidemiological study is needed but this has not yet been commissioned. Liefferink is concerned the authorities are not acting with the necessary urgency and there appears to be no accountability from Mintails, whose main shareholders are based in the United Kingdom. “There seems to be a total paralysis on the part of the competent organs of state, such as the Department of Water and Sanitation, the National Nuclear Regulator, the departments of Mineral Resources and Environmental Affairs. I conducted site visits last week with them but nothing has happened,” she said. Liefferink also questioned whether President Cyril Ramphosa’s big focus on economic development would be possible with a poor environmental base; water, after all, is a critical economic enabler. “Without water, there can be no economic growth. It’s important to take cognisance of the nexus between environmental management and economic growth,” she said. – Health-e News
Saturday Star article attached.
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