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Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority to start cleaning up acid mine drainage

Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority steps in to oversee the short the short term cleaning up of acid mine drainage

STATE-owned bulk water provider the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) is to oversee a short-term project to clean up acid mine drainage on the Witwatersrand.

This clean-up comes 13 months before the noxious mix of chemicals is expected to harm the environment, TCTA confirmed yesterday.

Acid mine drainage, which is already affecting the West Rand and encroaching on the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, may flood the Gold Reef City tourist site on the Central Witwatersrand Basin and sites on the area’s Eastern Basin if work to rectify the situation does not begin soon. Nigel’s central business district and a wetland considered to be of international importance would also be affected.

TCTA spokeswoman Thandi Mapukata confirmed that the company had been issued a directive to provide a solution to the problem, but said it was waiting for the interministerial committee on acid mine drainage to make a formal announcement as it was not the TCTA’s place to do so.

Under the directive, the project must be operational by February 28 next year. This would fulfil a promise made by Planning Minister Trevor Manuel that pumping would begin a year from when Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan set aside R225 m in his February budget (in the medium- term expenditure framework) to tackle the problem.

According to tender documents, TCTA has to appoint contractors to instal pumps to extract acid mine water from mines to on-site water treatment plants. Contractors will also be required to build water treatment plants and instal infrastructure to convey treated water to nearby water courses. There is no overall cost estimate.

The Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), a nongovernmental body that has long campaigned for action on acid mine water in Witwatersrand , is worried that the proposed short-term solution — neutralisation of the acid mine water by lime — will become a long- term solution. “Neutralisation is not a long-term solution because it doesn’t remove the salts,” its CEO, Mariette Leifferink, said.

Acid mine water may result in high levels of salts, sulphates, iron, aluminum and toxic heavy metals such as cadmium and cobalt, plus some radioactive particles.

Department of Water Affairs senior manager Marius Keet was yesterday waiting for an update from one of the remaining liquidators of Aurora Empowerment Systems , where pumping of the water ceased in February, putting Nigel and the wetland in jeopardy.

The Federation for a Sustainable Environment is also concerned that companies buying up abandoned mines that are emitting the water do not have the wherewithal to take on the environmental liabilities .

Parliament’s water affairs portfolio committee is to hear this month from the Department of Water Affairs, various mines and the Chamber of Mines on what steps have been taken to rectify the growing crisis, Democratic Alliance spokesman Gareth Morgan said.

Source: Business Day

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