South African Mining and Acidic Water Pollution

By PSU EcoMerge Capstone - 12:24 PM


South Africa is one of the largest metals producers in the world, and this industry makes up a significant portion of the country's gross domestic products. In the late 19th century, the capital city of Johannesburg was founded with the discovery of gold, and today, platinum, coal, diamonds and Chrome, iron ore and manganese are also valuable resources mined in South Africa. The mining industry today directly employs close to half a million South Africans, and supports an estimated 4.5 million in total. This industry also indirectly creates an additional 1.4 millions jobs. Over the last 100 years, this industry has been important to the country and its development.

However, South Africa has not successfully addressed the environmental impact of this long mining history. Waste from the mines results in Acid mine drainage, and leave people exposed to dangerous effects and risks of serious illness. Acid mine Drainage is the result and outflow of water from mining sites after a reaction between water and rocks containing sulphur minerals. Water exposed can even develop dangerous PH levels similar to battery acid and is very harmful.

An investigation from Harvard law school discovered that South Africa was not protecting residents from this pollution. There was over 600 million rand, or $38 million, estimated as costs per for the government to address the damage. South Africa’s water ministry proposed a plan, beginning in 2020, to charge 67 percent of costs for toxic polluted water to mining companies through an environmental levy. In 2011, the government set aside 1.2 billion to address acidic water, and this was unsuccessful. Wits University Professor, Mike Muller states, it will be difficult to find mines that can pay the new promised levy with many mines simply shutting down, and that there is little accountability towards the rehabilitation funds collected by the government.

The environmental effects of mining have been devastating towards individuals, but this industry is also very important towards the economy, and providing for many South Africans. Not addressing the environmental impacts of mining sooner has allowed over a hundred years of damage, making this problem harder to address and placing an important and neglected responsibility of generations on an important industry that is struggling to continue growing.

To end on a positive note, mining conditions and technology have continually been improving. Mines of South Africa are among the safest in the world, and have become far more concerned with water and environmental impact. The company, Dow Chemicals has been working closely with mines developing new promising water-recovery technology. This technology is exciting Nanotechnology which includes reverse osmosis, nano-filtration membranes and ion-exchange resins which optimizes this process, solves the environmental and social pressures on the mining issues, and addresses the existing environmental damage.


Citations and further reading:

Jamasmie, Cecila. "South African Miners to Pay 67% of Acid Drainage Clean-up Costs." Mining.com. N.p., 19 May 2016. Web. 17 July 2017.

"Mine SA 2016 - Facts and Figures Pocketbook." Facts and Figures - Chamber of Mines South Africa. Chamber of Mines of South Africa, n.d. Web. 17 July 2017.

"Nanotechnology to Curb Water Pollution in Mining." Brand South Africa. N.p., 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 17 July 2017.

"South Africa's Acid Mine Water Pollution Risks Lives." Africanews. Africanews, 21 Mar. 2017. Web. 18 July 2017.

Toyana, Mfuneko. "South Africa Plans Levy on Mines to Tackle Acid Mine Water Pollution." Reuters. Ed. James Macharia and David Evans. Thomson Reuters, 19 May 2016. Web. 17 July 2017.

Image taken by Mike Hutchings

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