The FSE has presented a proposal of recommended actions by the National Nuclear Regulator to deal with health risks and environmental hazards in the Witwatersrand Goldfields.
And extract follows, and the full document may be downloaded here.
Key gaps have been identified in research, including a detailed risk assessment looking at the impacts of radioactivity and heavy metals on the environment and the human population, well supported with toxicological and epidemiological studies.
The gold ores of the Witwatersrand contain appreciable concentrations of uranium and its radioactive progeny. Mining has resulted in the dispersal of radioactive material into the environment via windblown dust, waterborne sediment and the sorption and precipitation of radioactivity from water into sediment bodies.Â The use of contaminated material and mine residues in construction has also been identified as a means of dispersal of radioactive material into the environment. Contaminated areas have been identified and the need for comprehensive monitoring and study as well as epidemiological studies in affected communities are recommended.
Pollution related to Witwatersrand mines poses a number of hazards to surrounding communities. The major primary pathways by which contamination can enter the environment from a mine site are the airborne pathway, where radon gas and windblown dust disperse outwards from the sites, the waterborne pathway either via ground or surface water or due to direct access, where people are contaminated, or externally irradiated after unauthorized entry to a mine site, by living in settlements directly adjacent to mines or in some cases, living in settlements on the contaminated footprints of abandoned mines.
The most important lesson learnt from the studies in the Wonderfonteinspruit is that no short-cuts exist which would allow certain pathways to be ignored in a study of radioactive contamination within these mining areas.