Water News

Environmental group threatens to sue authority if acid mine drainage not cleaned up

Written by  Sheree Bega Monday, 20 February 2012 03:50
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The Federation for a Sustainable Environment will sue the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) if it doesn't start cleaning up the acid mine drainage (AMD) poisoning the Witwatersrand.


The environmental group wants desalination to be included in the AMD clean up process because the TCTA's option of neutralising AMD will "amount to pollution, degradation, and damage to the environment." It has criticised the TCTA for failing to involve the public in decision-making.
"The proposed neutralisation (high density sludge) of AMD as a short term and immediate address is not best practice, it is ineffective and will result in adverse impacts upon the ecology and downstream water users and uses," said Mariette Liefferink of the federation. "It's simply a money issue since insufficient funds have been made available by the government for the effective treatment of AMD."
The federation says the neutralisation process is "defective and was reached without consultation and input from experts in the field and the public..."
The TCTA have added the gypsum process, which involves using lime to neutralise the acidity of the water and remove toxic heavy metals, despite this not being recommended in the final draft report by the government appointed team of experts that investigated the AMD crisis affecting the Witwatersrand's mining basins.
Nigel Roussouw, of the TCTA's environment department, said it was studying the letter from the LRC.
The TCTA is upgrading an existing treatment plant at Rand Uranium / Gold 1 to pump and partially treat 36 million litres of AMD pouring daily out of the flooded Western Basin by next month, and hopes to build a new treatment plant to augment capacity later this year, but is still awaiting funding from Water Affairs.
But tempers are rising. At a special Western Basin Void Decant meeting this week, Stephan du Toit, a senior Mogale City environmental official, said the government and the TCTA had given no thought to the rehabilitation needed after neutralisation, which had worsened conditions in the Tweelopiespruit system.
The neutralisation process causes the heavy metals in the AMD to precipitate out of the water, but does not remove the high levels of sulphates, which flow untreated into waterways.
"What we've seen now is the total ecological destruction of the Tweelopiespruit system."
At the meeting, government officials said while neutralisation was not the ideal treatment, it was a "useful first step" .
Judith Taylor of Earthlife Africa, said communities were paying for pollution.
"We're seeing children with skin lesions and brain damage, TB and they are not HIV-positive."