Acid mine water: The damage done – Uranium levels over 220 times safety levels
Oct 4, 2010
By Dan Kemp
Dan Kemp writes: We’ve all heard about the acid mine water problem and the danger it poses to drinking water in the Gauteng area. I had the opportunity to see some of the damage first hand.
Photograph by: Ashley Kemp
My Dad heard an expert on the matter, Mariette Lieffering, talking on radio. He contacted her and she invited us on a tour she was giving to some journalists.
The tour was to various accessible sites on the Western Gold Reef of some of the most visible examples of the damage caused. Mariette is a well known and clearly passionate activist concerned with acid mine drainage.
The scepticism I had of “clearly passionate activists” was dispelled as Mariette cited official report after report written by government bodies (Dept of Water Affairs, Dept of Minerals and Energy, Dept Environmental Affairs and Tourism, CSIR, National Nuclear Regulator) and academic institutions.
It was clearly not speculation.
First stop was the basin that is Luiperdsvlei. No major surprises, it is after all a giant slimes dam catchment surrounded by mine dumps.
Apart from the lack of security fencing, the first thing that shocks you is the ground between the road and the edge of the basin. If you break the surface of the earth with your shoe, you find a bright sulphur-yellow sediment, concentrated in a 2cm thick layer, just below the crust.
Its caused by the runoff from the mine dump itself, which flows directly into the vlei. The second shocking fact is, Luiperdsvlei is a source of the Vaal. In fact, the stream flowing out of Luiperdsvlie, contributes 35% of the salt content but only 3% of the water volume to the Vaal.
Warning Signs at Robinson Dam - Photo: Environment.co.za
These salts have high levels of Cobalt, Cadmium, Aluminium, Arsenic, Lead, Nickel and Uranium. Uranium and Cadmium are particularly bad health risks.
Rand Water supplies most of Gauteng’s water from the Vaal.
All water on the south of the intercontinental water divide, which includes Luiperdsvlei, flows into the Vaal/Orange River system and into the Atlantic Ocean.
We then went north, over the divide, into Randfontein. All water this side of the divide flows into the Crocodile River system and into the Indian Ocean. Next to Randfontein Golf Course is Robinson Lake, a former recreational lake filled with water pumped from Robinson Deep mine.
This has a pH of 2.6. Water has a natural Uranium concentration of 0.0004mg/l. The DWAF considers a concentration of 0.07mg/l safe to drink. Robinson Lake has a Uranium concentration of 16mg/l, more than 220 times safe levels. This has resulted in the NNR declaring Robinson Lake a radioactive area.
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