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Loskop Dam Hit With Mine Acid Leak and Farm Irrigation Threatened

A massive mine acid leak in Mpumalanga has reached Loskop Dam, threatening SA’s second-largest agricultural irrigation scheme.

Work is now under way to contain the “uncharacteristic environmental incident” at  Khwezela Colliery’s Kromdraai site in eMalahleni, with numerous role players involved, said mine owner Thungela Resources.

But Agri Limpopo called on Saturday for answers and accountability. “This toxic, polluted water, contains highly concentrated levels of radioactive metals and salts which are hazardous to all forms of life,” it said.

“This polluted water flowed down the Wilge River, into the Olifants River and has now polluted the Loskop Dam, threatening SA’s second-largest agricultural irrigation scheme and causing devastating environmental and ecological damage along the way,” said spokesperson Marthinus Erasmus.

“Apart from the immediate harm, it will take years to rid the river sedimentary system of the metals and to restore the damage done.”

Francois Roux, an aquatic scientist at the Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency, told the Mail and Guardian all life had been killed in 58km of river affected by the spill.

“All fish, all the macroinvertebrates, all life is gone … everything is dead,” he said. “All of this pollution has ended up in the Loskop Dam Nature Reserve where we’ve got high species diversity and where we focus a lot of our conservation efforts.”

Thungela spokesperson Tarryn Genis said the team tackling the spill includes the water and sanitation department, Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency and experts in the fields of biodiversity, the environment, water and health.

“The team is providing guidance on the investigation and evaluation of the impact on the environment, the steps to be taken to control the pollution and the remediation steps that need to be implemented to remedy the effects of the pollution,” said Genis.

She said an investigation was under way into the spill on February 14 and interim findings pointed to the failure of a concrete seal at the mine’s south shaft.

“The shaft was sealed in 2019 as part of the water management strategy. Despite a water management plan in place, the volume of water exceeded the maximum capacity for treatment at the dosing site and flowed into the Kromdraaispruit, resulting in lowered pH levels of the water,” she said.

Thungela said the overflow had been contained, the river had been flushed with water from Bronkhorstspruit Dam and a cleanup had taken place along a 60km stretch.

“We are encouraged by the level of collaboration from the authorities, farming community and members of society who share in our devastation on the impact to ecosystems,” said Genis.

July Ndlovu, CEO of Thungela Resources, said: “We are a responsible mining company and hold ourselves to the highest standards when it comes to our environmental, social and governance obligations.

“We are fully committed to doing what is right and within our power as citizens of the Mpumalanga community.  We will lead the remediation efforts now and, in the future, as well as fully assess the causes and contributing factors that led to this incident.”

Erasmus said: “At a later stage we will want to interrogate how this devastatingly large leakage happened in the first instance and who should be held culpable directly and indirectly.”

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