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Residents use radioactive mud as an acne cure

Written by  Sheree Bega Sunday, 27 November 2011 07:32
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Experts warn old mine dumps could cause birth defects and brain disorders

Patience Mjadu can't bear the pimples that dot her face. So, like other women in her impoverished informal settlement, she has resorted to a novel but potentially dangerous form of treatment involving toxic and radioactive mining waste.


"I've heard that it really works to cure pimples and other people in my area are using it," explains Mjadu, an unemployed mother of four, her face smeared with the yellow sludge. "I don't think it can be bad for me."

Mjadu lives in Tudor Shaft a declared radiological hotspot perched on a radioactive mine dump in Krugersdorp. But she and her neighbours should no longer be there.

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."

Earlier this month, the NNR told Parliament that it had taken regulatory decisions on residential developments that pose an immediate risk to the public. "The NNR exercised its mandate in protecting residents of Tudor Shaft."

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."

But a new government report believes the NNR ruling is "likely be relevant for a number of other sites" and high-risks informal settlements will need to be moved to minimize human health risks.

"The unfortunate case involving the NNR-enforced relocation of the Tudor Shaft illustrates there are powerful scientific arguments for preventing human settlement in or close to these mine residue areas (MRAs) until toxic and radiogenic materials have been completely removed, the area radiometrically surveyed and monitored until cleared for safety by the NNR', states the final draft of the report, written by water scientist Anthony Turton, and commissioned by the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Hundreds of shacks, and thousands of people, remain in Tudor Shaft. "Look there" says 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."

Residents of Tudor Shaft are exposed to high concentrations of heavy metals which are carcinogens, as well as radioactive uranium which also leaves them vulnerable to birth defects and brain disorders.

Their plight is mirrored in the other mining catchments of the Witwatersrand, where waterways are polluted and radiological hazards linger - the legacy of 130 years of mining activity in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area.

The GDARD report, completed in July but ostensibly being kept under wraps, declares that the 380 mine dumps and slimes dams in Gauteng are causing radioactive dust fallout, toxic water pollution and soil contamination. There are other risks too of ground instability and collapse above abandoned mine workings.

High density residential areas, together with household food gardens in close proximity to MRAs expose the poorer sector of the population to grave health risks, says the report, Feasibility Study on Reclamation of Mine Residue Areas for Development Purposes: Phase II Strategy and Implementation Plan.

The report identifies inadequate monitoring of MRAs and states that local and provincial government or individual officials within specific departments can be held responsible for failings in their duty of care, considering the impact of MRAs on the environment and on human health. It urges that "universities and nuclear physicists, must be pulled in and researchers attracted to the field", and calls for an "integrated epidemiological approach to all aspects of MRA related or induced conditions."

But it envirsions rehabilitating and redeveloping MRAs as "new eco-tourism" destinations in recognition of the beneficial economic role that mining has played.

Liefferink hopes the MRAs that blight Gauteng will be rehabilitated. But in the polluted Wonderfonteinspruit catchment, little has been done, other than "cosmetic changes" that have failed to address widespread contamination. "Not even the basic issues have been addressed. There are spillages of radioactive material that are never cleaned up," she says.

"We're all talking about COP17, and the impacts of climate change, but we're perpetuating groundwater and surface water contamination...."

"We're all talking about COP17, and the impacts of climate change, but we're perpetuating groundwater and surface water contamination...."


Information on The Gauteng EIA Sector Stakeholder Seminar & The Department of Water and Sanitation, Directorate: National Water Resource Planning - Strategy Steering Committee (SSC) meeting

INFORMATION ON: The Gauteng EIA Sector Stakeholder Seminar, which was held on the 12 March 2019; and  The Department of Water and Sanitation, Directorate: National Water Resource Planning - Strategy Steering Committee (SSC) meeting for the continuation of the Integrated Vaal River System Reconciliation Strategy Study – Phase 2, which was held on the 13th of March, 2019. The FSE is in possession of the subjoined presentations and supporting documentation pertaining to the Gauteng EIA Sector Stakeholder Seminar, which the FSE will forward on request.  The FSE’s presentation is attached hereto. These documents include: The Phased Activities Explanatory Document, updated in February 2015.  Presentations from: 1.   EAPASA and  2.   The Federation for a Sustainable Environment. The following Explanatory documents:  EIA Validity Period Explanatory Document Clearance of Indigenous Vegetation  Explanatory Document Decommissioning Explanatory Document Regulation 54A Explanatory Document The Activities and Time-Lines Document.  This document will assist in understanding Section 24G applications and / or identification of listed or specified activities (if any).  DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT GAUTENG (GDARD) PROVINCIAL ENVIRONMENT MANAGEMENT FRAMEWORK STANDARD GDARD: Presentation of the Mapping of Environmental Decisions Presentations by Department of Mineral Resources (North West, Western Cape and KZN) (attached) – unfortunately DMR (Gauteng Region) did not present Presentations of DEA: IPS and NEMA Section 24G Waste Management Licencing  CSPS Admin EIAs  Energy Applications Explanatory Document for GNR 779 Annexure A: Published Notice –GNR 779 of 1 July 2016 Annexure B: Electricity Regulations on New Generation Capacity Annexure C: Renewable Energy Determination Annexure D: Coal and Hydro Determination Annexure E: Gas Determination Annexure F: Cogeneration Determination Annexure G: Nuclear Determination The FSE is a member of the Department of Water and Sanitation’s Steering Committee for the Continuation of the Integrated Vaal River System reconciliation Strategy Study – Phase 2 and participated in the 2nd SCC which was held on the 13th of February, 2019. The Agenda included the following Items: Study Progress Overview Parallel National and International Processes National Water and Sanitation Master Plan ORASECOM Climate Resilient Water Resources Investment Strategy and L-BWT project Strategy Interventions (Current Status) Water conservation/water Demand Management (Urban Sector) Rand Water Project 1600 City of Tshwane Water Resources Master Plan Implementation Irrigation Management i.      Eradication of Unlawful Irrigation ii.      DWS Water Management Plans iii.      Implementation of LHWP Phase 2 iv.      Noordoewer/Vioolsdrift Dam Feasibility Study v.      Water Quality Management Implementation of Long-Term AMD Solution Dilution Assessment Water Quality Management Strategy TOR 4. Water Balance Status   The FSE will supply the above-mentioned presentations on request.

A Battle to Hold Mining Company Accountable

A Battle to Hold Mining Company Accountable Mintails left behind a R460 million...


Mintails placed into final liquidation

BUSINESS DAY Mintails placed into final liquidation Department of Mineral Resources will join long line of creditors hoping to recoup money 20 September 2018 - 17:27 Lisa Steyn

BUSINESS DAY EXCLUSIVE: Liquidation allows Mintails to shirk environmental liabilities

21 August 2018 - 05:04 Mark Olalde   Pollution: Water resource management consultant Anthony Turton, with the Mintails gold plants and water treatment tanks in the background. Picture: BUSINESS DAY/FREDDY MAVUNDA Mintails Mining and several related companies have announced their liquidation, throwing into question the environmental rehabilitation of highly polluting operations near Johannesburg. Mintails mines and processes gold from a sprawling 1,715ha complex of waste piles and open pits in Krugersdorp and has for years been flagged for noncompliance. Its operations are bordered by informal settlements and suburbs housing thousands of residents, many of whom have complained of health effects, which they blame on radioactive dust and water pollution from Mintails’ mines. Records show that the cost to clean up the environment would be about R330m, but there is only R25.6m available. Observers fear that the situation could deteriorate further, as happened at the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine, an abandoned large-scale operation on the West Rand. A case study in the country’s deeply flawed mine closure system, Mintails teetered on the verge of collapse for years and entered business rescue in October 2015. Mariette Liefferink, the activist CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, tracked Mintails for more than a decade and is now working to intercede in the liquidation proceedings as the legal voice for what she labels the "mute environment". "There was poor planning. [Mintails’] due diligence was flawed. They overestimated the gold grade and the resource that could be reclaimed. "They continued to exploit the resource, to reclaim only the profitable parts and never top up the financial provisions," Liefferink says. As the company slips into liquidation, it passes the brunt of its environmental liability to taxpayers and, to an extent, to other mining companies. After Mintails fought for nearly three years to save the company, business rescue practitioner Dave Lake notified the Johannesburg high court in early August of his intention to liquidate the company. Provisional liquidation was granted on August 17 and a liquidator is expected to be appointed soon. THERE IS NO LONGER A REASONABLE PROSPECT OF RESCUING THE COMPANY. The business rescue plan called for the refurbishment of a gold ore processing plant but, according to a memo dated August 1 that Lake sent to the court and to affected parties, it failed when multiple investors ceased funding Mintails. "There is no longer a reasonable prospect of rescuing the company," the memo read. The liquidator will now decide how to pay back creditors with the remaining assets. Environmentalists fear this process could leave environmental liabilities low on the list of what deserves money. According to the business rescue plan, written in December 2016, Mintails owed various creditors more than R1bn, including a shortfall of about R300m in reclamation funding. Due to a web of involved companies, it remains unclear if a large portion of the already insufficient financial provisions can be accessed for environmental cleanup. DRDGold formerly held one of the mining rights and the corresponding trust fund, which are now in the Mintails group. DRDGold CEO Niël Pretorius says he believes that the trust fund contained R18m but he did not identify the trustees, whose consent is vital to unlocking the money. Documents show the Mintails group acknowledged that rehabilitation would probably cost between R300m and R336.5m, but it declined to top up financial provisions. According to the environmental management programme from one of Mintails’ mining rights: "These liabilities are also historic and predate Mintails’ involvement and should thus not be for Mintails’ account." Experts debate this narrow interpretation of the law. Lake wrote in the business rescue plan: "The Mintails group’s rehabilitation liabilities have remained largely unfunded for some time, and there are simply no free funds available to the [business rescue practitioner] to enable him to immediately provide such funding." Legal Resources Centre attorney Lucien Limacher is representing the Federation for a Sustainable Environment. "This is a trend that has been occurring for a couple of years where mining companies have undertaken a business rescue plan or have applied for liquidation because they have failed to really look after the rehabilitation fund," he says. The Legal Resources Centre sent letters to several government agencies, including the department of mineral resources, the department of water & sanitation and the department of energy, asking them to intervene in the situation and threatening to pursue legal action if the department of mineral resources fails to act. Department of water & sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau says they are "engaging Mintails so that the immediate measures can be put into place to ensure water resources protection. A longer-term plan is required to ensure rehabilitation of the mining-impacted areas." Lake declines to answer questions about the failed business rescue and the liquidation but he wrote for Moneyweb in January 2017 and laid out his argument for Mintails’ use of business rescue: "Mintails was sick – but it wasn’t terminal." Now the situation has become what Liefferink calls "pass the parcel", with Mintails playing the part of a "scavenger company", a term coined by researchers to describe under-resourced outfits that buy the scraps left over from larger mining companies and ultimately abandon them. Large gold, coal and platinum mines rarely, if ever, properly close in SA and there wasn’t one large-scale mine in Gauteng that achieved full, legal closure between 2011 and 2016. Mintails’ case will not affect the law that ring-fences financial assurances for reclamation, Limacher says. "But it is precedent-setting in that mines might now start applying for liquidation to avoid paying the cost of rehabilitation." Mintails’ West Rand concessions came in part from DRDGold, which also remines waste piles, and from Mogale Gold, which was in judicial management when Mintails acquired it in 2006. Since then, Mintails engaged in a pattern of environmental degradation. For example, the department of water & sanitation found in an August 2014 inspection that Mintails transported "slurry/sludge" in unlined trenches, completed insufficient monitoring, spilled slurry from pipelines and implemented no storm water management system at a pollution control dam. In December 2016, polluted runoff from waste piles was found to be seeping through a dam wall into the Wonderfonteinspruit, which has immediate downstream agricultural uses in the community of Kagiso. Now it will largely be up to the liquidator and regulators to protect the environment and public health. "That is the pattern that seems to be followed in the gold mining industry, and, I assume, would be followed in the coal and platinum mining industries, as well. "As soon as a mine is no longer very profitable, it transfers its assets," Liefferink says. "That seems to have the tacit support of the department of mineral resources." However, the department of mineral resources sent a statement that reads: "The department will engage with the appointed provisional liquidators with the intention to safeguard the environmental and social responsibilities." Mintails former CEO Johan Moolman declined to comment except to say he quit on June 26 when he learned a new investor had bought the company. Mvest Capital agreed to purchase Mintails from Paige, a vehicle of the UK-based Harbour family, with the understanding that Mvest would inject R30m into the beleaguered company to stimulate the business rescue plan. Mvest decided against handing over the full amount, paying only R5.5m. Mvest director Matthew Moodley acknowledges the initial agreement and the R5.5m. He says that after a month it became apparent the deal would require more investment to succeed. "With the increased need for working capital in July, Mvest took a decision to withdraw from the transaction," Moodley says, adding that Mvest did not "conclude a transaction with Paige". Liefferink says these companies are all "jumping from a sinking ship". She fears Mintails will go the way of the abandoned Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine, which was once one of the country’s most productive gold operations and is now a source of pollution, violent illegal mining gangs and headaches for adjacent mines. Mintails has followed a strikingly similar pattern. In the Blyvooruitzicht case, two companies, DRDGold and Village Main Reef, almost completed a business deal to sell the nearly exhausted mine and both walked away, claiming the other carried responsibility. "That whole area, just like Blyvooruitzicht, will be left like it is," Liefferink said. While neighbouring mining companies will probably have to pump water from the void in Mintails’ absence, the consequences of "the dust fallout and the toxic water in the river systems" will be carried by communities and by the municipality. Additional reporting by #MineAlert manager Tholakele Nene