TITLE: “AMD and agriculture” - A study regarding the impact of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) in the Witwatersrand on agriculture in the Gauteng province of South Africa.
15 July 2011
Abstract: Acid Mine Drainage (or AMD) in the Witwatersrand, due to abandoned mining practices is a well publicized occurrence. Evidence exists that water, already a scarce resource in South Africa, is contaminated by acidic water, a by- product of a century of mining practices. When mines ceased to be productive, they were closed down. Consequently pumping water out of the Witwatersrand rocks ceased. The Witwatersrand rocks not only contains the sought after minerals such as gold on which the South African economy was built, but also Pyrite, which when exposed to water and oxygen chemically reacts to form acidic water. Since 2002, acidic water is decanting in some areas of the Witwatersrand damaging the immediate eco-system. The acidic water is also contaminating the Witwatersrand’s fresh groundwater sources situated in huge dolomite aquifers underneath the Witwatersrand. The incidence of AMD and the South African government’s response is a highly contentious issue. The evidence clearly shows that the natural environment in the Witwatersrand is paying a high price. Agriculture in the Gauteng province relies heavily on water resources that are contaminated by AMD. The impact of AMD on agriculture in Gauteng province proves to be negative. Insufficient research data exists to determine the sosio economic impacts.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Developing the idea and motivation for the study
AMD (Acid Mine Drainage) is currently a highly contentious issue in South Africa, therefore also largely publicized in the popular media. The South African government is being attacked by environmentalists as not properly admitting the extent of the problem therefore not sufficiently addressing the problem. The environmentalist movement and the popular media on the other hand receive criticism for its tendency to exaggerate the problem and its search for sensationalism in order to sell newspapers. This controversial issue has sparked countless debates among experts, government and environmentalists.
The popular media has captured the hearts and minds of the public due to emotive reporting that the South African government is indeed failing to acknowledge the severity of the problem, and has indeed done so for the last decade, and that it is furthermore not sufficiently addressing the problem in order to avoid a catastrophe. The popular media has painted a bleak picture of the extent to which AMD is impacting our environment, consequently also South Africa’s ability to sustainably grow economically.
In this argument regarding the impact of AMD, the public tends to be swayed by the popular media. The government and its para-statal research organisations has spent millions of Rands to scientifically research the potential impact that AMD might have not only on South Africa’s environment, but also on its ability for future economic growth. These scientific reports compiled by experts, are not always accessible and are kept from the public eye. Government decisions are based on these scientific reports, which might have downplayed the extent of the problem.
The motivation for this study is to, objectively with the data from various groups on both sides of the issue, and with independent research already conducted, determine whether the impact of AMD on agriculture as part of the environment and influenced by the environment is in fact impacted negatively or positively by AMD, without being swayed by popular media omissions.
The research topic
AMD has a substantial impact on the physical environment. Many mines in the Witwatersrand have ceased mining operations due to a decreased availability of minable materials such as gold in the Witwatersrand. While the mines were still active they kept on pumping the water out of the Witwatersrand rock caverns in order to mine the rocks. However when mining operations over the years at these mines ceased, the pumping of water out of these Witwatersrand rock structures ceased as well and consequently water flowed back in either from adjacent Dolomite aquifers or from rainwater on top. “Large-scale closure of mining operations since the 1970s within the Witwatersrand mining regions or basins and the subsequent termination of the extraction of underground water from mines have become important national concerns…” (The Expert Team of the Inter-Ministerial Committee under the Coordination of the Council for Geoscience. 2010:1).
According to Cobbing (2011), have mining operations over more than a century exposed the Witwatersrand rocks, which contain Pyrite, to water and oxygen. If the exposed Pyrite or iron sulphide comes in contact with water and oxygen, a chemical reaction takes place, causing the water to be acidic. The acidic water then either decants into rivers and dams or it contaminates fresh groundwater resources, by flowing into the adjacent Dolomite aquifers underneath the Witwatersrand.
Cobbing (2011) further states that if untreated, the water with a very low PH value (acidic), high salinity and toxic metals such as uranium, which is radioactive, can wreak havoc in the surrounding eco-systems when it decants into river systems and dams. The acidity in the water renders the water useless for consumption by all living organisms. In the past active mines did treat the acidic water they pumped out. However, pumping operations as well as treatment plants at abandoned mines have ceased. The water that decants now in many places all across the Witwatersrand is untreated and highly toxic, unsuitable for human consumption and destructive towards the natural environment.
The impact on the natural environment is evident. However what is not evident is how the economy might be impacted. The economy relies on sustainable water resources in order to function. Agriculture is one section of the economy which relies heavily on the availability of usable water resources. The question thus remains how agriculture will be impacted by the incidence of AMD in the Witwatersrand. The impact of AMD on Agriculture in Gauteng specifically is of interest, as it is the closest agricultural area to the point of contamination.
The problem statement
The impact of AMD on the natural environment is evident and visible. The acidic water decanting all over the Witwatersrand has had a very destructive effect on eco-systems in the area, disturbing a very crucial balance on which all living organisms, including man, depend on.
What is not as evident and visible is the effect that contaminated water sources might have on sustainable economic growth. Sustainable economic growth depends on the state of the natural environment. The economy depends on sustainable natural resources.
Agriculture is a section of the economy that relies heavily upon natural resources. Irrigated agriculture and stock-watering use about 52-55 percent of total water in South Africa (GCIS, in Perret. 2002: 2). Due to the fact that the agricultural sector relies so heavily on water, it will undoubtedly be impacted by Acid Mine Drainage. The incidence of Acid Mine Drainage has a serious effect on the availability of fresh water resources in South Africa. Consequently, the agricultural sector, which is the main user of such fresh water in South Africa, will be heavily impacted on.
Thus the question remains: What is the economic impact of AMD in the Witwatersrand on agriculture in Gauteng?
The Main problem is
To ascertain what impact AMD (acid Mine Drainage) in the Witwatersrand has on the agricultural sector in the Gauteng province of South Africa.
1. To establish what the effects of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) are on water resources that are used for agricultural practices.
2. To ascertain the effects of AMD on agriculturally assigned water resources in the Gauteng agricultural area.
3. To identify the short term and the long term effects of AMD on agriculturally assigned water resources in the Gauteng agricultural area.
4. To establish and to describe the physical effects of Acidic water due to AMD on crops in general.
5. To ascertain the impact of AMD on commercial irrigation crop farming in Gauteng.
6. To ascertain the impact of AMD on subsistence irrigation crop farming in Gauteng.
7. To establish the amount of hectares of planted crops that may have been lost or to establish what percentage of agricultural land has been lost in the Gauteng area due to AMD over the last 3 years.
8. To establish whether AMD have an effect on agricultural stock farming in Gauteng and to ascertain what these effects are.
9. To establish whether farm workers in Gauteng have been affected by AMD.
10. To ascertain the amount or percentage of farm workers in the Gauteng, who may have lost jobs due to economic losses suffered by farmers due to the incidence of AMD.
11. To ascertain the effect of AMD on subsistence farmers in the Gauteng area.
Explanation of Research Design and Methodology
A literature study was proposed as prime source of data. Field research in the form of questionnaires to relevant experts was also proposed as a secondary source of data collection. A literature review, however delivered limited results with regards to the impact of AMD in the Witwatersrand on Gauteng agriculture. The questionnaires had limitations with respect to the nature of the questions as well as the fact that the interviewee’s had busy schedules.
It was clear from the onset that available literature was insufficient to solve the research problem. Since AMD is a contentious issue between government (including its para-statal research institutions such as the WRC, CSIR, etc), the mining sector and environmentalist movements/NGO’s, the usual resources available to the public was not going to paint the true picture. There was a need to dig deeper by gaining the trust of all relevant parties/stakeholders within this debate, in order to gather data, that is not available in popular media, or which may have been reported on inaccurately by the media. The need, thus, arose to approach experts in the field in order to conduct personal interviews. As a trusting relationship was built, reports not easily accessible and limited to the public were released that pertained to the research problem.
The evidence or data required to address the research question were locked up into the resource pool of various contending experts. Reports by para-statal research institutions regarding the extent of the AMD problem are being kept from the public. Environmental activists, academics, and non-government stakeholders are in possession of such reports or have written such reports. The usual channel of acquiring data was insufficient to gather evidence. Personal interviews, telephone conversations, e-mail correspondence with these groups revealed a legio of evidence that does not exist in the normal pool of resources. The need thus arose to personally interview various groups.
Government agencies were unresponsive to interviews. I was unable to consult with any government departments regarding the research problem. All attempts to interview government officials proved unsuccessful. E-mail requests were mostly ignored or the data offered were of inconsequential value. Para-statal institutions proved more helpful, yet cautious at the same time. Organisations and individuals un-betrothed to the South African government, which are involved in environmental activism, proved not only helpful, but also least cautious in providing sensitive scientific reports.
The evidence thus required were located in journal articles (such as Water SA, Waterwheel (WRC), SA journal of Science, International Journal of Water Resource Development, etc), scientific reports from Para-statal research institutions (such as The water Research Commission, The Agricultural Research Commission, CSIR and the Council for Geosciences), popular media contributions, especially investigative journalism reports (such as 50/50 on SABC 2, Carte Blanche on M-Net, and Special Assignment on SABC 3), government reports (such as was issued by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Environment and Conservation, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Department of Water Affairs, etc), government statements, interviews with experts and activists (Mariette Liefferink (FSE), Jude Cobbing (Geoscience Consulting), Phil Hobbs (CSIR); and interviews with farmers in the contaminated region.
Objectivity had to be maintained at the same time, thus evidence that could disprove the theory was deliberately sought. Reports and interviews indicating that AMD in the Witwatersrand might actually have a positive impact on Gauteng agriculture were sought and found.
However, most experts interviewed acknowledged the fact that limited research exists with regards to the impact that AMD has on agriculture in general. Physical impact studies exist in abundance. The impact of AMD on the natural environment has been reported in many studies. However the socio-economic impact that it will have on Gauteng agriculture, as a branch of the economy, has not been reported on. Therefore a gap exists to which research must attend to.
Outline of thesis and chapter contents
2. South-Africa’s Water scarcity crisis
3. Mining in the Witwatersrand
b. Current affairs
4. Mine waste and pollution
5. Conceptualizing AMD
a. High Sulphates
b. The Salinity debate
6. The seriousness and extent of AMD in the Witwatersrand
a. AMD in the Western Basin (West Rand of WWR)
b. AMD in the Eastern Basin (East Rand of WWR)
7. AMD’s impact on the environment
8. The socio-economic impact of AMD
9. Agriculture in Gauteng
a. Agriculture and climate in SA
b. Gauteng climate
10. The impact of AMD on Agriculture
a. The effects of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) on water resources used for agricultural practices.
b. The effects of AMD on agriculturally assigned water resources in the Gauteng agricultural area.
c. The short term and the long term effects of AMD on agriculturally assigned water resources in the Gauteng agricultural area.
d. The physical effects of Acidic water due to AMD on crops in general.
e. The impact of AMD on commercial irrigation crop farming in Gauteng.
f. The impact of AMD on subsistence irrigation crop farming in Gauteng.
g. The effect of AMD on subsistence farmers in the Gauteng area.
h. The effect on agricultural stock farming in Gauteng.
i. The effect of AMD on farm workers in Gauteng.
Chapter 2: Literature Review
A literature study was mainly proposed with an additional component of field research in the form of a controlled questionnaire. Secondary literature that was examined includes not only academic journal articles, but also scientific reports by Research institutions to government departments and inter- ministerial committees established to address a growing concern. Para-statal research institutions such as the Water Research Commission (WRC), the Agricultural Research Commission (ARC), the CSIR, and the Council for Geosciences conducted independent research as part of their mandate or were commissioned by government. Internally, government departments also conducted their own research. Investigative journalism by the popular media, made an extensive contribution, stating the case for environmental activism where government failed to do so. Lastly, Non Governmental Organisations, such as the Foundation for Sustainable Environment (FSE) have conducted various independent reports for submission to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment and Water, as well as other government departments in order to pressurize government into more urgent action.
The main body of literature reviewed, discussed the environmental impact of AMD on the natural environment, such as protected wetland areas for example the Blesbokspruit catchment, previously a RAMSAR site before AMD contamination; the Krugersdorp Game Reserve; and cultural sites such as the Cradle of Humankind in the West rand. Rarely, the impact that AMD has on agriculture is mentioned. How AMD contaminated water with heavy metals, such as Uranium and Cadmium, will affect water and soil quality, are reported. No studies could be found that reports on the sosio-economic impacts on agriculture and farmers per se. Thus, the studies conducted falls into the realm of the natural sciences. Social impact studies in my literature review do not exist. The field is dominated by natural scientists.
AMD decant and contamination affects the whole Witwatersrand. The Witwatersrand Mining Basin is composed of the Far East Basin, Central Rand Basin, Western Basin, Far Western Basin, KOSH (Klerksdorp, Orkney, Stilfontein and Hartbeestfontein) and the Free State gold mines. The literature reviewed mostly focuses on the Western Basin where AMD has been decanting since 2002 due to mines no longer de-watering abandoned mine operations. According to Liefferink (Interview. 9/7/2011) there are at present no mines in the Western Basin with pumping operations to de-water mines in order to prevent decant of AMD. The case of the Western Basin is most urgent; therefore the majority of impact studies focus on the incidence of AMD in this region.
The Blesbokspruit, Tweelopiespruit and Wonderfontein catchments receive huge attention, due to the fact that they are protected areas with sensitive eco-systems upon which many plant, animal and fish species rely. The Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage site, also receives a lot of attention. The Tudor Shaft Settlement in Mogale City local municipality, however, is built upon and adjacent to uraniferous tailings, which seriously affects their health (Liefferink. Interview: 9/7/2011). Communities, especially the poor are excluded from impact studies in the literature that was reviewed.
Definition of key concepts
Acid mine drainage (AMD), forms in mining environments when ore and waste materials, containing sulphide minerals such as pyrite, are exposed to water and oxygen. (Report to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on AMD. 2010:20). “In order for pyrite to oxidise, both oxygen and water must be present. Water serves not only as a reactant, but also as a reaction medium and a product transport solvent.” (Forstner & Salomans, in Report to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on AMD. 2010:20)
“Acid mine drainage is produced when sulphide-bearing material is exposed to oxygen and water. The production of AMD usually, but not exclusively – occurs in iron sulphide-aggregated rocks. Although this process occurs naturally, mining promotes AMD formation simply by increasing the quantity of sulphides exposed.” (Akcil & Koldas, in Oelofse. 2007: 618-619).
“Releases of AMD have low pH, high electrical conductivity, elevated concentrations of iron, aluminium and manganese and raised concentrations of toxic heavy metals. The acid produced dissolves salts and mobilizes heavy metals from mine workings. Dark, reddish-brown water and pH values as low as 2.5, persist at the site.” (Akcil and Koldas, in Oelofse. 2007: 619). It results from the breakdown of pyrite (FeS2 or ‘fool’s gold’) and other reactive sulphide-bearing minerals when exposed to air and water releasing acid, sulphate and metal ions into the environment.
AMD thus results in water sources becoming acidic. It is caused by a chemical process that is triggered when groundwater begins to refill underground mining shafts, or when runoff water comes into contact with open pit mines or tailings dams. The chemical process occurs when freshwater and oxygen come into contact with sulphide-bearing strata, the so-called “pyritic formations” that occur naturally underground in association with the gold-bearing reefs. The reaction releases acid, sulphate and metal ions that can migrate into the environment and enter freshwater sources (Funke et al. in press: 3).
The acidity generated by the sulphuric acid formation can mobilise and release heavy metals previously bound in the wastes, including arsenic, nickel, copper, zinc and aluminium, as well as solubilisation of salts of sodium, chloride, potassium and fluoride. It is mainly these dissolved metals that give to the toxic nature of AMD (The Water Wheel. 2005: 16-17).
“In addition, AMD is often associated with significant concentrations of toxic trace elements and radionuclides. These contaminants remobilise under acidic conditions and migrate into the vadose zone and groundwater system.” (Rösner & Van Schalkwyk. 1999: 138).
Dewatering - The removal of water from a drowned shaft or waterlogged workings by pumping or drainage as a safety measure or as a preliminary step to resumption of development in the area (Webster’s.org).
ECL (Environmental critical level) = is defined as the highest water level within the mine void where no AMD flows out of the mine workings into the surrounding groundwater or surface water systems (News for Africa. 25/2/2011.online)
A definition of “mine water” after ERMITE (2004b) reads “Mine water is water in mined ground including waste rock/tailings depositories and/or draining into an adjoining body of water including streams, lakes, aquifers, wetlands, and oceans”. (Oelofse. 2008: 3).
Pyrite - The mineral pyrite, or iron pyrite, is an iron sulphide with the formula FeS2. This mineral's metallic luster and pale-to-normal, brass-yellow hue have earned it the nickname fool's gold because of its resemblance to gold. The colour has also led to the nicknames brass, brazzle and Brazil, primarily used to refer to pyrite found in coal. Pyrite is the most common of the sulphide minerals (Wikipedia.org).
Radon: According to the US National Environmental Services Centre (nesc.wvu.edu) is Radon a naturally occurring radioactive gas that emits ionizing radiation. National and international scientific organizations have concluded that radon causes lung cancer in humans. Ingesting drinking water that contains radon also presents a risk of internal organ cancers, primarily stomach cancer.
Ramsar - "Ramsar Convention" -- is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the "wise use", or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.
Salinity in the ocean refers to the water's "saltiness". Other disciplines use chemical analyses of solutions, and thus salinity is frequently reported in mg/L or ppm (parts per million) (Wikipedia.org). The salt load is defined by the total dissolved solids (TDS) concentration measured in mg/1 (Pilson et al. 2000: 1.7)
TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) is a measure of the combined content of all inorganic and organic substances contained in a liquid in: molecular, ionized or micro-granular (colloidal sol) suspended form. Generally the operational definition is that the solids must be small enough to survive filtration through a sieve the size of two micrometer. Total dissolved solids are normally discussed only for freshwater systems, as salinity comprises some of the ions constituting the definition of TDS (Wikipedia.org).
TWQR for a particular water use is defined as the range of concentrations or levels at which the presence of the constituent would have no known adverse or anticipated effects on the fitness on the water assuming long-term continuous use, and for safeguarding the health of aquatic ecosystems.
Uranium: According to the US National Environmental Services Centre (nesc.wvu.edu) is Uranium a naturally occurring radioactive contaminant that is found in both groundwater and surface water. At high exposure levels, uranium is believed to cause bone cancer and other cancers in humans.
ABA – African Bush Adventures
AMD – Acid Mine Drainage
ARC – Agricultural Research Commission
CGS – Council for Geosciences
CSIR – Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
DEAT – Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
DME – Department of Minerals and Energy
DWAF – Department of Water Affairs and Forestry
ECL - Environmental critical level
EPA – Environmental Protection Agency
FSE – Foundation for a Sustainable Environment
FWR – Far West Rand
GDP – Gross Domestic Product
IMC – Inter-Ministerial Committee
MAP – Mean Annual Precipitation
MAR – Mean Annual Runoff
NGO – Non Governmental Organisation
NNR – National Nuclear Regulator
KGR – Krugersdorp Game Reserve
SABC – South African Broadcasting Corporation
SAR – Sodium Absorption Ratio
TDS - Total Dissolved Solids
TWQR – Target Water Quality Range
WRC – Water research Commission
KOSH basin - Klerksdorp, Orkney, Stilfontein and Hartbeestfontein
Literature review and discussion
A distinction should be made between the reports in the popular media and the studies conducted by natural research scientists, academics and environmental activists. The reports in the popular media were investigative and emotive with scientific facts not always reported correctly, whilst the reports of scientists and researchers were statistical and measurable, inclusive of many quantitative scientific studies that were conducted across proper lines of methodology.
The emergence of AMD polluted waters on the West Rand in 2002 resulted in growing controversy and concern. The media extensively reported, and continues to report, on the risks this poses to the environment. The coverage has included the following: 1) the negative effects of AMD on people who use water downstream from mines and boreholes polluted by mine waste; 2) the impact on the livelihoods of farmers relying on those waters for crop irrigation; 3) the lack of monitoring of this issue by authorities; 4) how AMD should be dealt with; 5) societal reactions to the problem; and 5) how mines have gained financially by externalising environmental costs. (Funke et al. in press: 4-5).
In 2005, much of the initial media attention was triggered by the so-called WRC 1214 Report by Henk Coetzee, which summarised the results of a research project, funded by the Water Research Commission (WRC) of South Africa on the nature and extent of mining-related uranium (U) pollution in the Wonderfonteinspruit (WFS) catchment, as well as associated risks. Disagreeing with the risk assessment methodology employed and published in the report, the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), which represented on the WRC Project No. 1214 Steering Committee, distanced itself from the findings of the report, announcing its intention to conduct its own investigations into the matter. After years of delay this investigation finally took place in December 2006. (Winde. 2010: 239).
Consequently in April 2005, the media drew attention to the West Rand basin with news headlines such as: “A rising acid tide” and “Acid River rocks Cradle of Humankind”. The reports went on to state that “South Africa‘s renowned Cradle of Humankind in Gauteng, home to one of the world‘s richest hominid fossil sites, is under threat from highly acidic water pollution” (Independent online, 14 April 2005) and “It is also threatening to drown the Sterkfontein caves.” (Mail and Guardian, 12 April 2005). The Mail and Guardian also accused scientists, mining companies and government of reluctance to discuss the mine water decant and its impact publicly, yet it is the start of a problem of such magnitude that it will affect our environment and health for decades to come. (Mail and Guardian, 12 April 2005). More recent media reports have drawn attention to mine water pollution contaminating the Loskop Dam, Randfontein and Wonderfontein Spruit areas. (Oelofse. 2008: 2).
Much of the media hype since then has focussed on the impact of AMD and AMD related pollution on the natural environment. The wetlands in the Witwatersrand, such as the Wonderfonteinspruit (Far Western Rand), the Tweelopiespruit (West Rand) and the Blesbokspruit (East Rand), have been the particular focus. These wetlands seem to form the central points around which the surrounding communities, industries, mining and agriculture revolve. Pollution of these wetlands is of grave concern not only for the popular media, but also for scientists and government.
There is overwhelming evidence; 1) that the water of the Tweelopiespruit and the Wonderfonteinspruit is polluted by the gold and uranium mines of Gauteng and the West and Far West Rand; 2) that the water contains unacceptable levels of acid, sulphates, and metals; 3) that the water and sediment contain radion nucleotides such as uranium in excess of 15 micrograms per litre, which is the prescribed maximum allowed by the WHO for human consumption (World Health Organisation, 2005); 4) that high levels of pollutants, especially in combination with one another, cause the degradation of the aquatic ecosystem; and 5) that the pollution emanating from the mines, poses a threat to the health of humans and other organisms that depend on that water source.
Extending from Roodepoort in the east to Randfontein in the west, and including Krugersdorp, the West Rand falls within the greater metropolitan area of Johannesburg. The area to the north is home to some of South Africa‘s most picturesque natural resources, including the Cradle of Humankind, a world heritage site. The West Rand first started to decant in 2002. According to Liefferink (2011: 8) are between 18 and 36 million litres AMD contaminated water flowing, uncontrolled and untreated, into the Tweelopiespruit (Limpopo Catchment) and seeping into the Wonderfonteinspruit (Vaal River Catchment). During heavy rainfall, approximately 60 million litres AMD are flowing into the receiving environment. According to Cobbing (2008: 451) is Western Mining Basin near Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province of South Africa, the most serious single case in the country today. Volumes as large as 36 000 million cubic metres/day of polluted water threaten a game reserve (KGR), an important dolomite groundwater aquifer and the Cradle of Humankind, World Heritage Site.
There has been a similar, yet smaller in scale, focus on the Wonderfontein-spruit catchment in the Far Western Rand of the Witwatersrand. According to Coetzee (2006a: i) has the eastern catchment of the Mooi River, also known as the Wonderfonteinspruit, located at the westernmost part of the West Rand goldfield, been identified in a number of studies, as the site of significant radioactive and other pollution, generally attributed to the mining and processing of uraniferous gold ores in the area.
The Wonderfonteinspruit valley is densely populated because of its agricultural value and presence of gold mines (Coetzee. 2006a: xiv). Coetzee (2006a: xiv) furthermore stated in his ‘infamous 1214 WRC report, that the key contaminant identified in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment was uranium. According to Coetzee (2006a: xvi), is a significant amount of uranium (several tens of tons per annum) entering the Wonderfonteinspruit via controlled and uncontrolled point discharges, as well as large-scale diffuse discharges. “The measured uranium content of many of the fluvial sediments in the Wonderfonteinspruit, including those off mine properties and therefore outside the boundaries of licensed sites, exceeds the exclusion limit for regulation by the National Nuclear Regulator” (Coetzee 2006: xvii).
The Blesbokspruit catchment, in its entirety covers approximately 60km². It is situated in the East Rand in the Gauteng Province, approximately 3km east of the town of Springs. The towns of Boksburg, Benoni and Brakpan lie in the northwest, with Nigel located south of the site. Approximately 45% of the catchment is urbanized while the remaining land is utilized for agricultural, mining and industrial activities. The catchment is also subjected to uncontrolled illegal dumping of pollutants, uncontrolled informal settlements and invasive plant species (Nell. 2008: 2). Fewer literature and field studies have covered this particular eco-system. The Blesbokspruit area is a permanently inundated reed-dominated (Typha & Phragmites) wetland, which is permanently flooded, due to artificial inputs of water (e.g. from mines and sewage treatment works). The reed beds are probably supported by eutrophic water.
However, due to AMD pollution, the site has lost its RAMSAR status. The Aurora mine was pumping untreated AMD water into the Blesbokspruit, until December 2010, when it ceased all dewatering (pumping) operations (Liefferink. 2011). With no other mine pumping in the East Rand, AMD is decanting at a rate of 100 million litres per day. The Eastern Basin, like the Western Basin is heading towards surface decant, and the limited studies conducted thus far on the East Rand, has given way for much needed case studies and field research in the Eastern basin.
Furthermore, the literature reviewed all fall within the natural sciences, such as geology, hydrogeology, and agricultural science. No journal article or report reviewed, were conducted by social scientists. The reviewed literature did mention sosio economic impacts, but to a limited extent. No psychological/ sosio logical studies exist either within the field of the social/human sciences or within the field of Development Studies. There is a definitive research gap on how the physical impacts upon the physical environment will in fact impact humans sosio economically who has to rely on the physical environment.
Scientific reports from various para-statal research organisations were reviewed, including the Council for Geoscience (CGS), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Water Research Commission (WRC) and the Agricultural Research Commission (ARC). Reports which provided useful data and analysis, includes: Coetzee’s WRC Report 1214 (2006), which first exposed toxic radioactive uranium levels in the WFS catchment; Pilson et al’s WRC Report 800/1/00 (2000) which addresses the high salinity in treated mine water; Nell’s (2009) ARC article on the Blesbokspruit catchment, arguing that treated AMD water can be used with success on certain crops; and Hobbs’ CSIR report (2008) on fish mortalities in the Koelenhoff farm case study, that can be attributed to a combination of factors of which AMD is only one.
Various academic articles in the Natural sciences were reviewed, of which most notable; 1) “The environmental impact of gold mine tailings footprints in the Johannesburg region, South Africa” by Rösner & van Schalkwyk (2000), who include gold mine tailings, (which most in the Witwatersrand are situated in urbanized areas), as containing significant amounts of radionuclides such as uranium and radium, and is as a result radioactive; 2) “The pollution and destruction threat of gold mining waste on the Witwatersrand - A West Rand case study”, by Oelofse et al. (2007), which highlights the extent and seriousness of AMD as well as providing useful data on the various impacts of AMD related water contamination; 3) “Gold, Scorched Earth and Water: The Hydropolitics of Johannesburg”, by Turton et al (2006), providing much needed background and historical data on the Witwatersrand; and 4) “Legal issues concerning mine closure and social responsibility on the West Rand”, by van Eeden et al. (2009), regarding the physical characteristics of AMD contaminated water, such as high salinity and radioactivity.
The intended proposal of the sosio economic impact of AMD on agriculture, not in a meta-physic sense but as an impact upon people’s livelihoods which is sustained by agriculture for one, was sought. Huge amount of studies cover the physical impacts on the environment and a lot less even covers the potential or real physical impact of AMD on agriculture as a natural science. However, very little literature mentioned possible risks/concerns/impacts. It was further-more part only to a broader study and not the focus of a study in itself.
My initial proposal to focus mainly on secondary literature had to be revised and field study became an increasing necessity as the primary source of data. The physical and environmental impacts are reported extensively. The sosio-economic impacts are mentioned in several studies, but descriptive and explanatory data lack. This had to be supplemented with interviews and controlled questionnaires.
Limited data with regards to the impact or potential impact that AMD has or might have on the physical aspects of agriculture exists. The data, furthermore, were only available in environmental/natural science reports. Due to the high technical complexity and difficulty of natural scientific studies where results were conveyed in mathematical and scientific formulae, the need arose for experts to convey data in layman’s terms. This meant controlled questionnaires had to be sent out and personal/telephone/e-mail interviews had to be conducted.
Very little data in the literature reviewed, however in any data, however, reported on the sosio-economic or sustainable developmental perspective of the impact of AMD contaminated water resources on farming and farming communities in South Africa. Very little data appeared in the secondary literature reviewed. There was thus an absolute reliance on field study.
Mariette Liefferink, self proclaimed whistle blower, environmental activist and CEO of FSE (Foundation for a Sustainable Environment), provided me with resources not currently accessible to the public. Her written reports to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee (Submission to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment and Water, NPO no. 062986-NPO. 2011) and other government departments, as well as confidential reports, unreleased reports and communications between environmental activists and government, opened up provided me with useful data. Notably, Liefferink questions the IMC report that treated AMD water are now fit for release into river catchments. Even though the ph of the water has been heightened to neutralise the acidity, high sulphate levels and toxic heavy metals still remain a threat for certain water uses such as agriculture. Liefferink has co-authored many scientific and academic reports.
Liefferink also provided me with communications between ABA owner D. Brink and M. Keet (DWAF), where toxicity in the Tweelopiespruit is impacting the wild animals in the Krugersdorp Game Reserve, through which the Tweelopiespruit flows. Infertility and cancers among the animals has become a huge problem, leading to substantial economic losses for ABA. Liefferink took me on a tour of the Western basin (9/7/2011), where AMD related pollution occurs and radioactive sites where uranium levels in AMD contaminated water were 20-40 times higher than NNR acceptable levels. The sites visited and information gained is not within the public domain at present, a situation Liefferink wish to remedy.
Conclusion: Summary of main findings and arguments
The literature reviewed, brought about the realisation that the sosio-economic impact of AMD on farmers and their livelihoods is a much needed topic for research. Field studies as to how farmers themselves are feeling the impact of AMD on their livelihood sustainability, needs to be conducted, since very little data exists. According to Cobbing (2011), admits that not a lot of research exists with regards to the impact of AMD on Gauteng agriculture.
Natural scientific reports and scholarly reports and recommendations exist. These reports are written by researchers who work for government which seems to be too slow in reacting to the AMD dilemma. Reports written by activists however are not accessible to the public. Investigative journalism however, tends to over-sensationalize the matter with over exaggeration and emotive language.
The literature reviewed was limited to the natural sciences, since social impact studies could not be found. It sketched the environmental impact of AMD. Some sosio-economic impacts of AMD on communities and farmers were mentioned but not discussed in detail, since it was not the topic of those studies. The limited available literature open to public access constrained data searches, and field studies, interviews and questionnaires had to be heavily relied upon, even when this was not my original intention.
Chapter 3: Historical and Subject Background
Background of the study
It is said that the earth‘s supply of water is vast. However, about 96% is salty, and most of the remaining fresh water is locked into ice caps and glaciers. Thus less than 1% of the earth‘s water is readily available for human use. Modern society places tremendous demands on this limited source. As supplies of groundwater are reduced and pollution contaminates these and other reservoirs, shortages of water may become a serious concern in the future (van Eeden. 2007: 56).
According to Blignaut and van Heerden (2009: 415) is water indispensable for life. It is also indispensable for economic activities. Water supply in South Africa, however, is limited, unevenly distributed, and negatively impacted by both changes in climate and the prevalence and spread of invasive alien plant species. According to Molden, Merrey & Gilbert (in Oelofse et al. 2007: 622), is “access to clean water universally accepted to be a precondition for economic and social development”. Water is also crucial for drinking, household use and food production (Oelofse et al. 2007: 622).
Farley and Daly (in, Blignaut and van Heerden. 2009: 416) states that: “The availability of water of acceptable quality is predicted to be the single greatest and most urgent development constraint facing South Africa.” Virtually all the surface waters are already committed for use, and water is imported from neighbouring countries. Groundwater resources are quite limited; maintaining their quality and using them sustainably is a key issue. Thus, South Africa is a water-constrained country. “The earliest writers on the subject described the aridity of the country, which has always been one of the key limitations of economic growth and development, and hence political stability.” (Turton. 2009: 2).
Mining activities worldwide are at the core of much contention as they enhance wealth and national gross domestic products (GDPs), but simultaneously increase socio-environmental hardship and ecological degradation. Numerous environmental problems occur as a result of mining. They include dust pollution, soil damage, sinkhole formation, destruction of vegetation and water pollution. (Funke et al. in press: 2).
Certain expert assessments by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1987 concluded that: “problems related to mining waste may be rated as second only to global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion in terms of ecological risk.” The release to the environment of mining waste can result in profound, generally irreversible destruction of ecosystems (EEB, in Oelofse. 2008:1). Since gold mining started more than a century ago, South Africa has been the largest producer of gold in the world (DME. 1996). As at 1997, South Africa produced an estimated 468 million tons of mineral waste per annum (DWAF, in Oelofse et al. 2007:617). Gold mining waste was estimated to account for 221 million tons or 47 % of all mineral waste produced in South Africa, making it the largest, single source of waste and pollution (DWAF, in Oelofse et al.2007:617).
South Africa‘s position in the global market is built largely on the huge economic benefit derived from some 120 years of mining. The primary commodities in this regard are undoubtedly gold, platinum, coal, diamonds, copper, lead, zinc, and iron ore. Of these, the most notable decline is that associated with gold mining, witness to which has been the large-scale closure of Witwatersrand gold mines since the 1970s. (Hobbs & Kennedy. 2011:1).
Even though mining has been one of the pillars of the South African economy for more than a century, the riches that have come from drilling thousands of meters under the earth, has come at a huge price. Mines can cause environmental devastation decades and even centuries after they close. One of the most pressing effects of mining, especially in water-scarce South Africa, is the issue of contaminated water emanating from mine shafts and stopes into surface water resources. (The Water Wheel. 2005: 16).
In the early 1990s, after more than a century, deep-level gold mining finally ceased at the West Rand and a system of interconnected underground voids of the different gold mines, totalling an estimated volume of 125 million m³, started to gradually fill up with naturally infiltrating groundwater and surface water (Winde. 2010: 250). After mines eventually discontinued the pumping of underground water in 1998 (which was discharged into the Tweelopie Spruit that drains via the Limpopo towards the Indian Ocean), in August 2002, highly-polluted water from the mine void started flowing out of boreholes and old shafts into low-lying areas and streams on the surface (AED, in Winde. 2010: 250-251).
As a result of more than a century of largely unregulated gold mining, we now have a legacy of heavy metal and radionuclide contamination in rivers flowing out of most gold mining areas. We also have a high population density living in close daily contact with dust and sediment arising from mine tailings dams (large portions of SOWETO and the East and West Rand residential complexes are located on land that in most developed countries would be considered to be contaminated).
More than 270 tailings dams related to gold mining and covering a total area of about 180 km² have been identified in South Africa (Rösner et al. 1998). Most of the tailings dams are situated either in highly urbanised areas or close to valuable agricultural land. “Since the 1970’s the high operating costs of deep underground gold mines have encouraged some companies to focus on the reclamation of existing tailings dams for the recovery of gold still present in economically viable quantities.” However, a contaminated footprint of the former tailings material remains, after reclamation has been completed (Rösner & van Schalkwyk. 1999: 138). Liefferink (2011) states that in this process at the Tailings to “leach” the gold, cyanide is used, which remains in the waste either seeping into groundwater or flows into rivers when it rains.
Cobbing (2011) explained that AMD exists due to years of mining activities, especially gold mining, where the ‘Wits‘rocks containing the gold, were now exposed to water and oxygen due to drilling. The ‘Wits‘rocks, however also contain pyrite (iron sulphide) that chemically reacts with water and oxygen, when exposed to water and oxygen due to the drilling, to bring about AMD. These ‘Wits‘ rocks were previously isolated from the dolomite aquifers, but now due to drilling these acidic water flow also into our aquifers polluting groundwater sources. In order to reach the gold in the Wits rocks, adjacent dolomite aquifers had to be dewatered. Mine closure however, has brought about the cessation of dewatering the adjacent aquifers.
To date there are 8000 derelict and ownerless mines on record, all of which are un-rehabilitated and are costing the tax payer ZAR 100 billion (Brown, in Turton. 2009: 2). Abandoned mine shafts and stopes, previously dewatered when mined, now fill up again, due to cessation in mining. Clean water gets exposed to the Pyrite in the previously isolated ‘Wits’ rocks. The water no longer being pumped out by the mines (dewatered) rises to the surface and decants. As soon as the Pyrite-contaminated water gets exposed to oxygen, a chemical reaction takes place, whereby the water’s ph decreases from 7 (neutral) to 2 (acidic). At a PH of 3 a precipitation of heavy metals takes place.
The Water Wheel (2005: 17), states that when this contaminated water decants into streams and rivers above ground the acid all available neutralising agents attacks, and as the pH rises the metals precipitate as hydroxides and oxides. Cobbing (2011) states that Acid mine drainage has three characteristics, namely; a. Low Ph (acidity) anything below 7 ph; b. High salinity (salt); and c. Toxic metals such as uranium, which is radioactive.
One of the characteristics of AMD is a high level of sulphates. If humans ingest more than 600 mg/l of sulphate, it may lead to vomiting and diarrhoea (van Eeden et al. 2009: 55).However, the salinity within such acidic water after it decants is 4700 mg/litre. The World Health Organisation’s standard for sulphates is 200mg/l; the environment requires less than 100 mg/l and animals can tolerate up to 1000 mg/l. Irrigation requirements are less than 150 mg/l, that is, for total salts (Liefferink. 2011:16). Even after Neutralization (treatment with lime - that forces the acidity to settle at the bottom in sediment, with the treated water flowing above the sediment), salinity remains high at about 3700 mg/litre, well above the World Health Organisation acceptable standard (Liefferink. 2011).
A more concerning characteristic of AMD is radioactivity. Some of the metals contained in AMD such as uranium, thorium, radium, polonium, and some isotopes of lead are, in addition to being chemically toxic, also radioactive. Uranium is identified as the principal contaminant of concern emitted by the gold mining industry. Uranium is radioactive and chemically toxic with an extremely long half-life of 10¹º years. Its impacts, after mine closure, on persons, property, and the environment are, therefore, long term and of appreciable magnitude (van Eeden et al. 2009: 55). Furthermore, the gold mine tailings from the Witwatersrand also contain significant amounts of radio nuclides such as uranium and radium. As a result, this material is classified as low level radioactive waste (Rösner & van Schalkwyk. 1999: 142). According to Winde et al (in van Eeden et al. 2009: 55), does uranium and its daughter products have a long-term impact on the environment due to the fact that these elements accumulate in the sediments and will continue to leach out of the mine tailings and slimes dams for centuries to come. Radon gas, a by-product of AMD can cause cancer in humans (Liefferink. 2011). The Tudor Shaft tailing dam near the Tudor Shaft settlement contains 10 000 – 100 000 BQ/kg of radioactive uranium, where the NNR regulatory limit is 500 BQ/kg (Liefferink. 2011).
Only about 12 % of South Africa is arable. So the country is, in fact, agriculturally poor, and this sector contributes very little to the overall GDP (van Eeden. 2007: 56-57). However, Irrigated agriculture, consuming 62%, is by far the largest single surface water user (Blignaut and van Heerden. 2009: 416). The agricultural sector, even though not contributing much to South Africa’s GDP, is the main water user, and can thus be potentially impacted by contaminated water sources due to the occurrence of AMD in the Witwatersrand. The farms within the closest range of the Witwatersrand AMD contamination zone falls within the boundaries of the Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Free State, and North West provinces of South Africa. The Gauteng province was chosen as the case study.
Important issues to the study
South Africa is one of about 30 countries, who are considered water stressed, of which 20 countries face absolute water scarcities of less than 500 m³ per capita per year (Overseas Development Institute. 2002: 1). This limited resource’s availability and quality is further exacerbated by pollution. In South Africa, toxic and radioactive substances generated from industries is polluting rivers and causing long term contamination of the aquatic ecosystems (www.controllingpollution). Furthermore, waste from gold mines is the largest single source of waste and pollution in South Africa and there is wide acceptance that Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) is responsible for the most costly environmental and socio-economic impacts (Oelofse, Hobbs, Rascher and Cobbing. 2007:1).
The threat of AMD to the environment is not solved in the short to medium term; it is likely to persist for centuries to come. AMD threatens the scarce water resources (the environment) of South Africa, and as a result also human health and food security.
The government of South Africa is the guardian and the responsible party to ensure sustainable water resources. The National Water Act –NWA (Act 36 of 1998) specifies that government, as the public trustee of the nation’s water resources, must act in the public trust to ensure that water is “protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner for the benefit of all persons” (Perret. 2002: 9). “The new water law sets out to meet the objective of managing water quantity and quality to achieve optimum long-term environmentally sustainable social and economic benefits for society, while ensuring that all people have access to sufficient water. Water is considered a national resource vested in the state” (UNDESA/UNDP/UNECE. 2003: 12).
The mining sector is the biggest polluter of South Africa’s scarce water resources, exacerbating not only availability, but also the quality. In the Witwatersrand in particular, the gold mining practices over more than a century has left a serious footprint on the environment. Abandoned mine voids are decanting at an alarming rate all over the Witwatersrand. More than 200 tailing dumps scatter the Witwatersrand landscape, threatening not only the sensitive wetlands, but also large sections of poor communities in close proximity of these dumps.
The impacts and dangers have been reported in the popular media since 2002 when the first decant in the western Basin occurred. Government through its para statal research institutions has researched the problem exhaustively. Many of these reports were kept from the public. With continued pressure from the media, particularly investigative journalism, for example TV shows such as 50/50 on SABC 2 and Carte Blanche, government slowly reacted. Environmental activism was given a chance to expose matters previously concealed. Government under pressure appointed a Team of Experts in 2010, which had to compile a report for a newly appointed Inter-Ministerial Committee on AMD, entitled: “Mine water management in the Witwatersrand gold fields with special emphasis on Acid Mine Drainage”. Recommendations were made by the task team, which the IMC approved. According to Liefferink (2011) has none of the treatment measures proposed and approved been implemented as of yet.
The sosio economic impacts of AMD pollution are mentioned in brief, but not explored in detail. The livelihoods of communities are at stake. Communities and farms depend on fresh water resources for their daily needs. If these resources are contaminated, it poses serious risks to the sosio economic welfare of the said communities. Adler and Rashan (in Oelofse et al. 2007: 622) states that ―long-term exposure to AMD polluted drinking water, may lead to increased rates of cancer, decreased cognitive function and appearance of skin lesions. ―Recent studies conducted by the South African Council for Geosciences (CGS), concluded that AMD in some of the areas contains high levels of radioactivity which may increase the risk for cancer (Oelofse et al. 2007: 622).
Funke and Meisner (2011: 25), states that mining activities also affect the landowners and communities living close to mines. “Liefferink refers to the plight of communities living in close proximity to the mining operations on the Western Basin, who are directly exposed to mine dumps and tailings dams. She tries to create awareness amongst these communities (with the help of some funding from the mining companies) by making them aware of the health hazards they face in their day-to-day lives” (Funke et al., in press). According to van Eeden et al (in Funke and Meisner. 2011: 25), is this a problem in particular because some of these communities are dependent on ground water from boreholes due to a lack of municipal water supply. In addition, farmers and their workers use ground water and surface water for drinking purposes, to water livestock and to irrigate crops. Where water used for irrigation is contaminated by mine effluent, this could negatively impact on crops and subsequently pose a risk for human health and the financial security of farmers who need to meet certain quality standards for their crops.
Mine closure and the associated increase in AMD also has serious consequences for communities previously supported by the mining sector Mine closure results in loss of job opportunities and increased unemployment. In addition, informal settlements with associated social pathologies are on the increase. Liefferink (2011) points out those settlements all over the Witwatersrand rely on subsistence farming, due to high unemployment. There are settlements like Kagiso and Tudor Shaft in the West Rand which rely on subsistence agriculture. Their water sources are contaminated however due to the fact that they are in close proximity to tailing dumps, which contaminate their water sources with toxic heavy metals such as uranium. The Tudor Shaft tailing dam near the Tudor Shaft settlement contains 20-200 times more uranium than the NNR accepted level (Liefferink. 2011). AMD is also decanting in the western basin, polluting the Tweelopiespruit upon which many communities rely for all their water needs (Liefferink. 2011).
According to Civil Society Organisations involved in AMD activism, 2010 (in Funke & Meissner. 2011: 25): “ in addition to AMD having a negative effect on private and communal property, it also potentially has a detrimental effect on the built environment, ecosystems, agricultural and heritage resources, which ultimately impacts negatively on society.” These negative impacts often only reach their climax decades or centuries after mining activities have stopped (Van Eeden et al., in Funke & Meissner. 2011: 27). The potential health effects of AMD are also considerable, especially in cases where AMD is decanting at present and is affecting downstream communities (Funke & Meissner. 2011: 25).
Chapter 4: Research design and Methodology
Design and methodology followed during field research
Secondary literature sources proved insufficient to gather data with regards to the impact of AMD in the Witwatersrand on agriculture in Gauteng province of South Africa. Field research thus had to be conducted. The methodologies used included personal interviews with experts in the field, controlled questionnaires in which experts were asked to answer specific questions with relation to the research topic, and field visits to the Western Basin of the Witwatersrand with Environmental activist and CEO of the Foundation of Sustainable Environment Ms. Mariette Liefferink. Where physical interviews could not take place, telephonic interviews were conducted and/or e-mail communiqués took place.
Nikki Funke at the CSIR was very helpful, connecting me with all the relevant experts in the field, such as Phil Hobbs (Hydro geologist – CSIR), Prof Anthony Turton, Mariette Liefferink (FSE), and Jude Cobbing (Water Geosciences Consulting). I conducted personal interviews with P. Hobbs, Jude Cobbing and Mariette Liefferink. Cobbing, Funke and Turton agreed to complete the controlled questionnaire.
Government departments were approached to be interviewed or to complete the questionnaire. I approached the following departments: GDARD (Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development), DAFF (Dept of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries), and The Gauteng Department of Agriculture. I got at most e-mail responses that an expert would get back to me. This never happened.
I also contacted the TAU (Transvaal Agricultural Union) and WISA (The Water Institute of South Africa), but received no reply. Prof. E.J. Stoch and Prof. van Eeden at the North West University in Potchefstroom proved to be very helpful. I was not able to meet with Prof. Stoch, due to transportation difficulties. He invited me to spend a day with me taking me to affected areas. He did however provide me with very useful reports on the research topic.
Dr. J.P. Nell from ARC-Institute for Soil, Climate and Water (ARC-ISCW), agreed to complete my questionnaire. I also conducted a telephonic interview with him. His insights and stance on the matter proved extremely useful. He took an alternative view than all the other scientists I consulted with, providing my research with a more balanced and objective view.
The personal, telephone and/or e-mail interviews conducted, as well as the controlled questionnaires assisted me to understand technical and scientific content matter in layman’s terms. I could ask questions where I was not sure whether I correctly understood or requested experts to simplify matters into understandable terminology.
I was provided with reports, some of confidential nature, not accessible to the public. The same experts also explained the contents of the reports in easier terminology where I requested. I was free to e-mail requests or clarifications. Scientific studies conducted in a quantitative manner were analysed for me and translated into understandable language.
Chapter 5: Results – Presentation and discussion
Results of the study
Agriculture in Gauteng is being impacted by AMD contaminated water. The effects of AMD on water resources for agricultural practices would be the same as the effects of AMD on all water resources in Gauteng: high salinity levels, low pH and extreme pollution (Funke. 2011). Experts disagree as to the extent and whether there is also room for positive impacts. Winde (2009: 778) states that uranium due to AMD related water contamination, may enter the food chain, by irrigating vegetable gardens, irrigating crops, watering livestock, using it for human consumption, commercial production or the consumption of fish caught in water contaminated with mine affluent. Van Eeden et al (2009: 55) further state that plants these metals readily absorbs though their roots, and from there, they are passed on into the rest of the food web. The same applies to crops grown for commercial purposes. Consumers are potentially at risk to be exposed to radioactive food.
According to Turton (2008) consists AMD of a range of salts, with concentrations as high as 3 grams per litre. When used for agriculture this translates into a saline build-up in the soil profile, mostly of sulphates. The low pH also mobilizes trace elements in the soil like aluminium. Liefferink (2011) states that treated AMD water contains between 3000-4500 mg/l salts, where the regulatory limit in South Africa is 600 mg/l (WHO standard is 200mg/l). Neutralization may increase the ph of the water, extracting the acidity, but high salt (sulphate) levels and toxic heavy metals remain. Untreated AMD contaminated water is not suitable for irrigation or human consumption. Treated AMD, may be used for certain crops (Nell. 2011).
In the Blesbokspruit catchment area (Eastern Basin) over the last 14 years the Grootvlei mine has only released treated mine water. The acidity was increased from a PH of 2 to a PH of 7-7.5 before it was released into the Blesbokspruit. Farmers downriver have been using this water for irrigation for the last 14 years with no negative impact (Nell. 2011). In fact, when calcium is added to this highly laden sulphuric water (high salinity) the soil value is improved for crops. Nell (2011), furthermore states that treated AMD water has been successfully used for the last 15 years on salt sensitive vegetable crops. Even though high salinity could potentially be a problem, Nell (2011) states that due to dilution downstream by the time it reaches the irrigation point, it is so diluted that the water has very little salt per litre. Nell (2011) further states that even when farmers have to use these high salinity water for irrigation, due to Gauteng‘s rainfall, the high salts in the soil washes away quickly.
However, WRC Report 800/1/00 by Pilson, van Rensburg, et al (p viii) states that salinization is a problem: “The highest cost burden of combating salinity is currently being carried by the household sector and not by industry as might be expected (Pilson, van Rensburg & Williams. 2000: viii). The impacts of neutralisation, that is the high sulphate loads upon the receiving environment and the large volumes of heavy metal sludge residue, will be unacceptably high. The costs and impacts will be unfairly and inequitably borne by agricultural users, surrounding industries, domestic or potable users and the aquatic ecosystem and environment. The aforesaid is conceived as the single biggest flaw in the predictions report. “The IMC Report does not state what the impact will be on the environment of this high sulphate laden water, yet recommends it for release, but somehow invokes the precautionary principle.” (Liefferink. 2011: 3).
There is some evidence that AMD in the Western Basin has increased groundwater levels in adjacent dolomite aquifer compartments. This implies a greater resource for irrigation (positive effect). Rivers previously dried up are now flowing again due to AMD decant, so the fact that farmers have water outweighs their concern that it is in fact acidic (Cobbing. 2011). However, it is also possible that in the long run pollution derived from AMD may negatively affect irrigation water quality. Cobbing (2011) states: “The last survey I was involved in (about 2007) did not pick up direct AMD contamination of groundwater.” Cobbing (2011) mentions, however, that the Blesbokspruit in the Tarlton area is significantly polluted by AMD to potentially impact farmers (Cobbing. 2011).
AMD has long and short term effects on agricultural water resources in Gauteng province. According to Turton (2011), is the short term effect a build-up of salts and a lowering of soil ph and the long term effect, the sterilization of the soil, partly as a result of the precipitation of what is known as “yellow boy”. This is a mineralization of manganese and iron oxide. This grows along the stems of grasses and fossilizes them rapidly. Cobbing (2011) states that the short term effects are limited, but that in the long run may compromise water quality, and may also lead to increased risk of sinkholes in dolomite areas. “This affects the crops that are grown if they are irrigated with polluted water as this seeps into the soil. A reduced quality in crops will make them more difficult to sell, especially to retailers/end users with high quality standards e.g. Woolworths, the European Union etc” (Funke. 2011).
Acidic water due to AMD has physical effects on crops in general. Elements or toxins such as Cobalt, Cadmium, Uranium, Copper, Zinc, etc do occur in very small amounts in water, but insufficiently to cause any problems. AMD contamination heightens these levels dangerously. All metals in excess can be taken up by plants. Irrigated crop farming may thus be affected if crops take up all these toxic heavy metals. This uptake also decreases the fertility of the soil (Liefferink. 2011). No crop can grow in untreated AMD, but in treated AMD salt sensitive crops may actually benefit (Nell. 2011).
In the case of maize, South Africa’s staple crop, AMD contaminated water with the lower pH causes two physiological things to occur. The meristematic tip of the root cap stops dividing, so you get stunted roots. This makes the crop drought prone and unable to take up the nutrients in the soil. The second thing that happens is the pollen tubes become deformed. These are hollow tubes through which the pollen grain must pass. With the deformations the pollen cannot pass and so the seed does not set. This causes crop failures. Extrapolated up to national level this means loss of food security over the areas that are irrigated with any acidic water, not only AMD. This includes the larger footprint of acid rain caused by Eskom power stations and the combustion of coal in general (Turton. 2011).
AMD water contamination affects subsistence farming communities in the Witwatersrand. Many communities are located near or even on goldmine tailings. Mine closure on the Witwatersrand has led to high unemployment. Consequently, is subsistence farming often the last resort for such communities, but AMD may render the available water resources unfit for agricultural use (Oelofse et al. 2007: 622). The impacts here are possibly more severe than for commercial irrigation farming as farmers are directly dependent on these crops for their livelihoods, and crops of poor quality may have negative health impacts. While not much research on the health impacts of AMD has been done in South Africa do date, it is generally accepted that these are negative and potentially long-term (Funke. 2011).
AMD related water contamination has furthermore impacted stock farming in Gauteng. Hobbs (2011: 6) acknowledges that there has been abnormally high fish mortalities in January of 2011, at the Brook-wood Trout Farm located near Kromdraai in the West rand, due to the low pH value that is indicative of, amongst other sources, a combination of very low pH mine water. Hobbs (2011) stated that the water quality, due to AMD, decreased to such an extent where it was no longer suitable for trout breeding and that the particular farmer had to move his operations to Mpumalanga as the deteriorated water quality could no longer be used to breed fish.
Case studies as early as 1967 in the FWR revealed the physical impact of AMD contaminated water on animals and livestock. Infertility, sterility, birth deformities, internal bleeding, and cancers were detected due to calcium depletion in AMD contaminated water, as well as the presence of radioactive uranium. Mr D. Brink (2008: 3-4), CEO of ABA also noted that all aquatic life had died in the Tweelopies Spruit, that several animal mortalities (including abortions) are linked to the mining pollution in the Tweelopies Spruit. In particular, mentioning was made to the abortion of two rhinos and the death of three buffalos worth more than a million rands. With regard to the quantification of costs associated with the polluted water within the Tweelopies Spruit, ABA submitted in May 2005 that their estimated (preliminary) losses directly linked to the water pollution in the Tweelopies Spruit are as follows: Mortalities = R289, 275; Lack of Breeding = R804, 874; Damages to Gardens = R 50,000; Damages to Equipment = R 24,000 at a total of R1, 168,149 (Brink. 2008: 10).
It has been reported that farm animals in the Western Basin have suffered deficiencies due to AMD related uranium poisoning. Two headed, three headed and headless calves have been reported. “Jelly cows” have also been reported due to calcium depletion in AMD related uranium poisoning (Liefferink. 2011). Liefferink (2011) states that cows when drinking from AMD polluted water disturb the sediments where the uranium settles, consequently cows drink the water contaminated with uranium. The uranium in turn can be taken up in the milk of the cows, and when milked for human consumption can endanger humans. Stoch (2011) however disagrees with this assessment. .
No data exists with regards to the possible impact that AMD may have on farm workers. Cobbing states that there are risks to farm workers. Very few farm workers have been affected according to Nell (2011).
AMD has a potentially damaging impact on agriculture in the Gauteng province. Physical impact data are limited, but it can be concluded that AMD negatively impacts agricultural water resources, soil, crops and livestock.
In conclusion, South Africa is a water scarce country. Water scarcity (availability), is further exacerbated by pollution. Gold mining is the biggest polluter of South Africa’s scarce water resources. In particular in the Witwatersrand, the gold mining industry has left South Africa with a legacy of AMD contamination, which not only impact the environment, but also South Africa’s ability for future sustainable economic growth.
Chapter 6: Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations
AMD related water contamination in the Witwatersrand of South Africa has become a highly publicized and contentious issue in South Africa. The popular media has exposed the true scale and extent of the problem with the assistance from environmental activism. The South African government has come under a huge amount of pressure to remediate the issue. Practical solutions have been approved by the IMC on AMD. However the practical implementation is still lacking.
The AMD problem has become a serious issue when the first decant in the Western Basin of the Witwatersrand occurred in 2002. A huge amount of scientific and physical impact studies on the natural environment have been conducted. Social impact studies on communities and their livelihoods have thus far been neglected.
The results clearly show negative impacts on agriculture in Gauteng. The gap in research with regards to the impact AMD contaminated water has on agriculture, must be addressed in order to increase data that describes the impact.
AMD is not going to disappear overnight. The public, however, is not aware of the magnitude it potentially has on their health and livelihoods. It’s a ticking time bomb and research is important to educate and enlighten the public. The research thus far has been toned down, and kept from the public to hide inadequacies among the stakeholders to properly address this problem. At this point the man on the street is not a stakeholder in this process, and therefore needs to be informed, in order that he might become an active participant.
-End of Report-
“Soli Deo Gloria”
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