Mining houses urged to clean up

THE City is working with various partners and mining companies to clean up radioactive hotspots in the Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment Area.

THE municipality is taking a strong position on pollution, and has joined forces with the Department of Water Affairs and environmental stakeholders to engage mining houses on radioactive contamination in the West Rand.

This was made clear at a recent public participation meeting at the Council Chamber. According to Stephan du Toit, the environmental protection specialist in the City’s integrated environmental management department, the Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment Area Remediation Action Plan (WCARAP) is a positive move to force the mining houses to clean up or face the might of the law.

Du Toit said the WCARAP study had identified several “hotspots” with regards to the radiation and toxicity of water resources. Five of these were in Mogale City.

Complied by the Water Affairs Department, the National Nuclear Regulator and Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment Area (WCA), the study sought to hold past and current mining houses accountable for radioactive contamination - and force them to pay up if “push comes to shove”.

“The Mogale City municipality is highly involved in the Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment Area and we are working closing with the team in making sure that the remediation action plan becomes a successful effort,” Du Toit said.

Radiation and toxicity levels in the hotspots posed a danger to residents and that “cannot be let unchallenged”.

The affected areas in Mogale City that have been classified as category one are:

  • Tudor Dam south side about 50 metres distance to wall and bank;
  • Stream bottom 150 metres downstream of Tudor Dam;
  • Upstream wetlands near the Kagiso extension 8 turnoff;
  • Downstream wetlands in Kagiso near the Azaadville-Kagiso bridge; and
  • Private garden southwest of Kagiso near the Azaadville-Kagiso bridge.

At Tudor Dam, which is located in the southeastern portion of the headwaters of the WCA, near the Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement - better known as Soul City - soil and sediment are potentially contaminated with radio nuclides.

There is evidence of sulphate evaporate on the surface of the sediment. The activity concentration of uranium 238 in the soil and sediment behind the dam are high - currently at 8 000 to 1 000 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg), with radium 226 at 1 700 to 2 800 Bq/kg. A becquerel is the derived SI unit of radioactivity, equal to one disintegration per second.

According to the study, category one sites may or may not pose an immediate public health hazard, but have been contaminated to some degree. The clean up of such sites would be uncomplicated, requiring minimal capital and technical work.

“The major reason why we are so extremely involved in this initiative is that some of the recommendations with regards to the remediation activities affect the municipality directly. However, we are communicating with the interested and affected parties of the communities we serve,” Du Toit said, indicating Mogale City municipality’s historic involvement with and intimate knowledge of the WCA.

The upper Wonderfonteinspruit originates in Mogale City, which is situated close to the continental watershed that separates rivers that flow either to the Atlantic or Indian oceans.

Mariette Liefferink, the chief executive officer of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said: “We are addressing the radioactive contamination to remediate the radiological hotspots. What we want to achieve is the remediation of the West Rand Gold Fields and the affected communities.”

The Mining Act requires that as and when mining is complete, the mining house concerned is required by law to rehabilitate the contaminated areas.

Regarding the penalty that could be imposed on mining houses that contravened the Act, Liefferink said: “Their mining licences or permits can be withdrawn or, in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, the individual directors of the mines can be held criminally accountable.”

The public meeting drew throngs of interested parties ranging from politicians and residents to environmentalists and mining houses.

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