Water affairs fingered four coal mines

Water affairs fingered four coal mines for the pollution of drinking water in the Mpumalanga town of Carolina on Tuesday.

The department’s chief operating officer Trevor Balzer told Parliament’s water affairs portfolio committee the four were Northern Coal’s Mimosa Mine, a mine operated by Siphetha Coal, Union Colliery owned by BHP Billiton, and a colliery operated by Msobo Coal.

Residents of the town and its surrounds have been unable to drink the water from their taps for the past few months, and have been supplied by water tankers.

Responding to a question on the situation in Carolina, Balzer told MPs that while the town’s water supply was no longer hazardous, it was still not fit for drinking.

“The department is working with the municipality. As reported to me on Friday [18 May], the water is no longer acidic, and we’ve managed to control the iron, sulphate and aluminium levels to consistently comply with the national standards for drinking water,” he said.

“So the water is not hazardous, but the one element we still have fluctuating in the water is the manganese level, so you have… discolouration. Because of this… the water is not yet suitable for drinking purposes, but it can be used for washing purposes.”

Balzer said the department hoped that by the end the month, the water would be suitable for drinking. Authorities would continue providing water in tankers for residents.

Acid mine drainage

Asked by committee chair Johnny de Lange if the problem was caused by acid mine drainage (AMD), Balzer said: “Yes, it is as a result of some contamination, it appears.” He then named the four mines, and confirmed they were all working mines.

On what the mines were doing about the pollution, he said the department was “working with them”, but was unable to say whether the mines were pumping to reduce the level of the acid water in their workings.

“I don’t have that information with me,” Balzer said.

De Lange asked the department to provide his committee, which was being briefed on the management of AMD on the Witwatersrand, with a progress report.

“Here is a prime example… where we need a plan for the rest of the country. Unfortunately, our department has seen fit to postpone that plan for 13 months before they start drafting it, until they’ve completed a feasibility study,” De Lange said.

Balzer said pre-directives – legal notices calling for compliance with standards – had been issued to each of the four mines.

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