Posted on: March 6, 2009 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

South Africa. Heavy rains in Mpumalanga have sparked concern of a potential deadly cyanide leak into the Sabie River.

Transvaal Gold Mining Estates (TGME), a Mpumalanga based subsidiary of South African gold mining company Simmer & Jack, had an overspill at their Elandsdrift gold mine heap leach pad on the 31st of January following heavy rains in the area.

The Lowveld branch of the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA) has called for mining operations to be stopped and independent investigations to be done into safety at the site, after a heap leach pad overspilled.

Heap leaching is a process used to recover gold from ore. A dilution of cyanide is trickled onto enormous piles of ore and the gold is eventually dissolved and collects at the bottom.

Cyanide disrupts the body’s ability to use oxygen properly, affecting the heart and brain when it enters the bloodstream.

Though the Elandsdrift operation is currently at 40% production, WESSA representative Marina Caird believes that the entire mining operation should be stopped until an external audit on the safety of the operations is completed.

According to Caird, the site was not only situated in a high rainfall area but was going against the National Water Act by having part of the heap leach pad below the one-in-a-100-year floodline.

Both WESSA and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) raised concerns over safety at the site but the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry allowed TGME to continue mining.

Caird felt that badly though out socio-economic considerations seemed to outweigh the Health and Safety of miners or the safety of water supplies. She added that WESSA had concerns that this type of mining is given the go ahead by the relevant authorities without clear understanding of the risk involved.

Simmers & Jack, Transvaal Gold Mining Estates’ (TGME) parent company, confirmed a small, localised overspill. Deon van der Mescht, Simmer & Jack’s chief operating officer, also added that their monitoring systems worked and that they were able to contain the spill and neutralise it immediately. According to Deon, their water monitoring system showed that there was no seepage into the groundwater.

Simmer & jack also added that the heap leach operations are manned 24 hours a day,every day of the week and in the event of heavy rainfall, the irrigation gates are reduced and cyanide addition stopped.