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WATCH: illegal miners hit Mintails mine on West Rand here.

PODCAST: Abandoned mines in South Africa are causing a safety and health risk here.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019 10:21

FSE's Cold Gold Appeal

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

 

Monday, 03 June 2019 22:41

Zamas Hit West Rand Mine

Saturday Star article attached.

Financial Mail Cover Article:  May 30 – June 5 2019, attached for download.

Subject: Invitation to stakeholder workshop on the proposed amendments to the Financial Provisioning Regulations, 2015

 

 

As you are aware, amendments have been proposed to the Financial Provisioning Regulations, 2015 which substantially change the amended version that was gazetted for comment in November 2017, and discussed in the stakeholder workshops held since the release of the November 2017 version and the 2nd half of 2018. The proposed amendments were gazetted on Friday 7 May 2019, and a period of 45 days have been allowed in which to received inputs and comments. 

 

In order to explain the rational for the changes and to provide a platform for further engagement before the close of the comment period, the Department will hold a stakeholder workshop as indicated below: 

 

Date: 12th June 2019

Venue: To be confirmed but will be held in central Pretoria

Time: 8h30 – 12h30

The gazetted regulations can be downloaded from the Departments website at: https://www.environment.gov.za/

 

To facilitate logistical and catering arrangements, please RSVP as soon as possible to Ms Miranda Mosondo at the email address provided (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), or by phone at 012-399-9277. 

 

We look forward to engaging with you further on these important regulations at this planned workshop.  

Monday, 27 May 2019 10:00

Big Increase in Mine Water Pollution

Big increase in mine water pollution

Mark Olalde | Andiswa Matikinca |Mail & Guardian | 17 May 2019 00:00

Unchecked: Mining companies accused of failing to comply with environmental regulations say that the water department is disorganised and understaffed. (Madelene Cronjé)

 

New statistics released in Parliament show that 118 mines around South Africa are polluting rivers, inadequately testing for contamination or otherwise dirtying South Africa’s waterways.

The figures, released by the minister of water and sanitation, Gugile Nkwinti, also show that 115 mines are known to be operating without proper water permits. This represents a significant increase from 2014, when the South African Human Rights Commission found 39 mines to be noncompliant.

Violators are spread across every province and include major corporations such as AngloGold Ashanti, De Beers, Glencore and Anglo American Platinum.

In response to parliamentary questions posed by Freedom Front Plus MP Anton Alberts, the minister released the data, compiled by the department, in April.

It showed that during the past financial year, more than 15% of the 712 mines licensed to use or to have an effect on water sources had failed to comply with the water-use licences that stipulate the conditions of that usage.

Asked what steps would be taken to address the deficiencies, Nkwinti responded: “It is not clear why transgressors resort to operation of mines without the requisite authorisation; however, the department continues to intensify activities to protect the water resources, as mandated by the National Water Act.”

Alberts told Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism that he had referred the list of transgressions, which covers the years 2015 to 2018, to the department’s Blue Scorpions regulatory unit. This is the group tasked with finding people who break water law, and fining them.

“Even though mines are a part of our economy, we need to find a balance between just getting the profits out of the ground and leaving nature spoiled and people who live there becoming sick,” said Alberts.

The data covers a wide range of permit violations: polluted water discharged directly into the environment, waste piles contaminating groundwater, unlined wastewater retention ponds, oil spills, insufficient monitoring, excessive dewatering of the underground void and poor record-keeping.

As climate change continues to worsen South Africa’s water security, the mining industry’s number of water-related infractions is rising. 

 

In 2017-2018, the department found 10 more mines significantly out of compliance with their water-use permits than the year before, and 38 more than in 2015-2016.

Much of the mining negatively affecting water is in the coalfields of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, which ranked first and second, respectively, in the number of mines out of compliance with their water-use licences.

Saul Roux, a science and policy specialist at the nonprofit legal group Centre for Environmental Rights, said acid mine drainage poses mining’s most significant threat to clean water resources. Coal mining on the Highveld overlaps with large portions of the country’s 22 designated strategic water-source areas, which provide 60% of all South Africans with water, he said. “Our scarce water resources are affected throughout the coal life cycle, including direct effects on water quality during coal mining, effects of air pollutants on water resources and coal ash contamination of groundwater,” Roux said.

But companies’ responses to questions about the data highlighted the disorganisation in the government bureaucracy meant to police them. In recent years, the department has had only 35 compliance and enforcement officials to cover the entire country. This is according to a report by the South African Water Caucus, a group of nongovernmental organisations and trade unions set up to study water use.

The data listed elevated levels of pollutants at Glencore’s Mpumalanga mines, for example, but company spokesperson Lerato Setsiba said the department had not informed the company of the infraction.

“Glencore has an extensive water-monitoring network on all sites where water qualities are measured every month and investigations are conducted on any exceedance of water quality,” Setsiba said in a statement.

Other major mining companies also defended their infractions.

Anglo American Platinum’s spokesperson, Jana Marais, responded to the findings that several of its mines, including the Twickenham Platinum Mine in Mpumalanga, discharged polluted water. She said the company was spending millions of rand on upgrading water infrastructure at the mine and that an external audit had found higher compliance with water permits than the department found.

Chris Nthite, AngloGold’s representative, said the company was aware of the listed violations — which included waste spillages, stormwater management issues and unauthorised water use — and had addressed them. “[AngloGold] has offered measures to remedy any problem, or has not been contacted further.”

The department’s spokesperson, Sputnik Ratau, did not respond to requests for comment on why the department allowed mining companies to continue operating with outstanding infractions.

Neither did the department of mineral resources. Its spokesperson, Ayanda Shezi, instead referred questions about potential inter-agency co-operation in the policing of mining companies back to the water department.

With water pollution continuing largely unchecked, environmental activists have taken to the courts to protect water resources in both the coalfields and gold-mining basins.

Mariette Liefferink, chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said her group is in the process of filing litigation against the ministers of water and sanitation and of mineral resources, among other parties, for their role in the environmental catastrophe unfolding at the Mintails SA gold mines on the West Rand.

A parliamentary inquiry revealed late last year that the government allowed mining to continue at Mintails after mine waste spilt into waterways and children had drowned in open mining pits.

This inquiry also revealed that the company’s liabilities ran to R460-million — that is the amount of money the company would require to repair all the damage to the environment.

In the 2015-2016 period, Mintails complied with less than a quarter of its water-use licence requirements, according to the data released in Parliament.

With the company liquidated, mining at the operations near Krugersdorp have largely halted and any proceeds are flowing back to investors in London.

“There is a significant lack of political will, which means polluters can continue with impunity to ignore directives,” Liefferink said. — oxpeckers.org

This report was sponsored by #MineAlert and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa

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