Unedited statement released by Mintails
Late on the evening of 5 February 2014, Mariette Liefferink of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) sent the following email to several mining and environmental authorities:
I hereby, on behalf of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, notify the relevant organs of state of significant spillages of acid mine water containing radionuclides, which occurred last Friday as a result of the failure of the wall of a pollution control dam, in ownership and control of Mintails Mining SA into the Upper Wonderfonteinspruit. An in loco inspection of the area will adduce overwhelming physical (real) evidence of the impacts upon the Wonderfonteinspruit.
Community leaders of Kagiso and the news media witnessed the impacts of the above-mentioned environmental incident today during a tour which I, on behalf of the FSE, conducted with the said parties.
We, hereby request the DWA, the DMR, the NNR and the DEA to conduct an investigation into this matter and to report on this matter with promptitude. The matter is not of trivial concern since the community of Kagiso is of the intention to launch a protest march against Mintails on Monday as a result of Mintails’ alleged contraventions of its legally binding EMPR and of its alleged infractions of the NWA, the NEMA, the NNRA and the MPRDA.
I have been mandated by the community leaders of Kagiso to inform you of their protest action on Monday.
CEO: FEDERATION FOR A SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENT
This letter contains several significant errors and Mintails would like to set the record straight.
1. “acid mine water containing radionuclides”
· Unprecedented rainfall occurred on 31 January 2014, which exceeded the 100-year storm and resulted in an overflow of contained acid mine water.
· Contrary to the claim above, the water is not radioactive.
2. “the failure of the wall of a pollution control dam, in ownership and control of Mintails Mining SA”
· The dam wall of the containment dam known as Lancaster dam did not fail. It performed exactly as designed when tested by the extreme rainfall event of 31 January 2014 by retaining all sediment eroded off the dump footprint.
· There was a partial failure of an upstream toe paddock due to the excessive rain, but was contained in Lancaster dam.
· The clean / dirty water separation systems of Mintails’ neighbours failed, causing large quantities of clean water to flow into Lancaster Dam, causing the high dam level. Water overflowed the dam through a spillway, specifically designed for this reason to prevent the dam from overtopping, which can lead to structural failure. The areas and storm water trench separating the Mintails’ pollution control area for external storm water lies outside of Mintails’ control.
· The dam breaching its designed spillway is unfortunate but the designed spillway fulfilled its function of containing the trapped AMD and other sediments of heavy metals.
· Ms Liefferink has been made aware of the different areas of control and separation of mine water containment from surface water management on several occasions. The containment dam was installed and managed by the company through consultation with Ms Liefferink, the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) and other interested parties as far back as 2009.
It must be noted that:
· Mintails immediately reported the events of 31 January 2014 to the regulator and is working with the regulator to recover the systems implemented to separate storm water and mine water.
· Mintails is further putting into place emergency measures to reduce the level of Lancaster dam to increase its capacity for further containment, regardless of whether the source of influx is from Mintails controlled areas or not. Mintails continues to maintain a dialogue with the regulator regarding this matter.
Mintails takes its responsibility very seriously and, by way of example to its long term commitment to the betterment of the legacy environment, is currently engaged in the following actions:
1. Cooperating with a post graduate student who is doing research on the pH of rainfall on dumps in order to better determine the role that acid rain plays in the mobilisation of metals and the generation of acid mine drainage (AMD). The Mintails data shows that highly acidic rain is falling on these dumps and thus concludes that AMD is more complex than we ever imagined.
2. Mintails is collaborating with a university which is fielding a number of graduate and undergraduate students who are developing post-closure visions for landscape rehabilitation for consideration by the various stakeholders.
3. Collaboration is underway with a university whereby the first phase of a scientific program designed to mathematically model the movement of AMD from the surface of mine dumps, across landscapes and into the void and wetlands, will be developed. This is absolute cutting edge research and will inform the management of AMD at many different levels.
4. Collaboration is underway with several Universities, including NWU and Wits, whereby Masters-level student are doing thesis work on the concept of Closure Mining with a view to expanding our collective knowledge on this topic.
It is important to see the work that Mintails is undertaking in context. The company has inherited a compromised site with legacy issues. Contrary to popular belief, Mintails is not responsible for contaminating the areas – there was pre-existing contamination from over a century of previous mining operations. Rather, Mintails is working to rectify the situation through the removal of tailings from surface whereby the contained metal sulphides are re-deposited in an oxygen deficient environment to greatly reduce the formation of acid mine drainage in the future.
Communities will see these benefits through a reduced volume of tailings on surface, dust pollution during the high wind months and opportunities for mine-affected land to be brought back into a higher economic use allowing green areas to be created and or development opportunities to be exploited.
Mintails would like to raise a concern that the community risks greater compromise to its health and lifestyle from the closure of Mintails than from the continuation of the closure mining operations.
Mintails Press Statement