Acid mine drainage: experts called in

7 September 2010

A team of experts is expected to assess the extent of acid mine drainage in South Africa and report back to a special inter-ministerial committee appointed by Water Affairs Minister Bulelwa Sonjica.

The Cabinet last month mandated the minister to urgently establish a special task team to investigate how the government should respond to reports of acid water drainage in some parts of the country.

Acid mine water, or water contaminated with heavy metals as a result of mining activities, is reportedly affecting the Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and Free State provinces. Reports suggest that this drainage poses health and economic risks for the country.

Speaking in Cape Town on Monday, Sonjica said the experts would appraise the risk and look at what has already been done by various institutions and then assess the available solutions and technology.

“They will interrogate and assess the viability costs of critical short-term interventions, integrate lasting and sustainable medium- and long-term solutions, and explore possible partnerships with the private sector,” Sonjica said.

The ministerial committee will reconvene in six weeks’ time to receive a detailed report from the team of experts.

Responding to media reports that the streets in Johannesburg’s CBD would be flooded with toxic mine water in the coming months, Sonjica assured the public that the situation was under control and that there was no need for people to panic.

As a short-term measure, an amount of R218 million has been budgeted by the department to fit pumps to avert any situation that might arise.

The minister said the country has been faced with the problem of mine water effluent, including acid mine drainage, for over 100 years.

Over the past 15 years, the government has strengthened environmental regulation in the country through the introduction of the National Environmental Management Act, Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and National Water Act.

SAinfo reporter and BuaNews