The pumps at Grootvlei Mine, near Springs, east of Johannesburg, have stopped. The mine is now being flooded with acid mine drainage – toxic water, polluted with sulphates and heavy metals, from old mines on the East Rand.
It is estimated that it is now only a matter of days (between 7-21 days depending on rainfall), before the pumping station is flooded.
If pumping is not resumed, acid mine drainage is likely to flow uncontrollably onto the surface of the ground (decant) within months. One of the first places that the water will come out is predicted to be the streets of the central business district in Nigel. It will further pollute the Blesbokspruit and the Marievale Bird Sanctuary which are already contaminated with toxic mine water. Groundwater supplies will also be contaminated.
In the past, pumping at Grootvlei mine kept the acid mine water at about 800m below ground level, and pumped out about 85 million litres (Ml) of water a day. Recently, it has sporadically been pumping about 50 Ml a day and discharging it untreated into the Blesbokspruit. When two of the pumps were still working, it was reported (verbally) that water was rising at a rate of about 6m per day.
Water from other mines in the East Rand is also cascading down to Grootvlei, plus water from other sources such as stormwater and seepage from tailings dams. (Reference: Draft Regional Closure Strategy for the East Rand Basin. November, 2008, Department of Mineral Resources.)
For months, unpaid mine workers at Grootvlei have been bravely keeping the pumps going, working in dangerous conditions. But with pumps failing and escape routes from the mine being flooded it was finally decided that it was too dangerous to continue pumping.
Civil society groups have long expressed their concern about a possible decant on the East Rand. Government and the mining company were aware of the measures that had to be taken to avoid it. What will it take for government to engage with civil society constructively on the issue of acid mine drainage?
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