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The race against toxic mine water

Neels van Wyk, 48, lives in Westonaria on the southwestern outskirts of Johannesburg, surrounded by four major mines which over the last 120 years extracted gold and uranium. Most of the mines closed down 11 years ago, when pumping of underground water reserves also stopped.

Now researchers worry that toxic mine water is rising toward the surface and seeping into nearby water supplies, contaminating rivers with a cocktail of acidic and sometimes radioactive waste.

“My concern is that I use borehole water which could be contaminated. I sell peaches and vegetables to the hawkers and they sell it to the community. What if the vegetables are contaminated and we don’t know that,” Van Wyk said.

Activists fear rising water levels in the mines have created an underground time bomb that could threaten the country’s nearby financial capital Johannesburg in 16 months.

The threats are massive: groundwater contamination, health risks like cancers, poisoned soils, and fears for the city’s buildings.

Toxic mine water surfaced eight years ago just west of Johannesburg, and still flows out of the ground during heavy rains.

“The underground mining basin is now flooding and has flooded with acid mine drainage to a point that it now spills out on to the surface,” said Liefferink.

The run-off has poisoned soil, made a dam radioactive and wiped out life in affected waters, she said.

South Africa has 6,000 abandoned and derelict mines — many run by firms now out of business, leaving the state responsible for 70 percent of them.

But government lacks the 1.5 billion rands (217.6 million dollars, 156 million euros) needed for a 10-year rehabilitation plan.

Source: Times Live

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