Chemistry Climate & Earth The Science Inside

Kagiso’s environmental and health hazard in pictures

I interviewed Mariette Lieferink for episode 3 of The Science Inside, and she took me on a tour of Kagiso, a township on Jozi’s West Rand, which is heavily affected by acid mine drainage. These pictures show Mariette informing a community, who are in the process of rising up against mines in the area, about the health and environmental effects of acid mine drainage.

Mariette Lieferink in her home. She is an activist and part of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment. We spoke to her about acid mine drainage in Kagiso, west of Jozi. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
This is Mariette Lieferink in her home. She is an activist and part of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment. We spoke to her about acid mine drainage in Kagiso, west of Jozi. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
Mariette shows us something that looks like a coral, but it's brown and heavy. She says it is grass, changed to look this way because of acid mine water. No one in the taxi believed her at first. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
We’re taking a tour of the area in a taxi. Mariette shows us something that looks like a coral, but it’s brown and heavy. She says it is grass, changed to look this way because of acid mine water. No one in the taxi believed her at first. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
Mariette brought boiled eggs, wors, chakalaka and rolls for the children of Tudor Shaft informal settlement. She says their main concern is food, so in order to gain their support, she must satisfy this basic need first. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
Mariette brought boiled eggs, wors, chakalaka and rolls for the children of Tudor Shaft informal settlement. She says their main concern is food, so in order to gain their support, she must satisfy this basic need first. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
The clay soil around Tudor Shaft is an unnatural golden yellow colour, because of iron pyrite, a metal compound that is usually buried deep underground. This compound is also known as fool's gold. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
The clay soil around Tudor Shaft is an unnatural golden yellow colour, because of iron pyrite, a metal compound that is usually buried deep underground. This compound is also known as fool’s gold, and it has been brought to the surface because of mining. When this chemical reacts with rain or surface water, it turns the water acidic. Acidic water can dissolve other metals that have been brought up to the surface by mining, like uranium and arsenic. Because it is impossible to trap all the water around mines for treatment (due to rain, rivers and storm runoffs), some of these harmful chemicals could enter the rest of the country’s water supply. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
Mariette is describing a practice called pica, or geophagia, the deliberate consumption of soil. It is common in urban South Africa, where it is believed to lighten the skin and thus make young women more attractive. But here, the clay may contain dangerous metals because of acid mine drainage. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
Mariette is describing a practice called pica, or geophagia, the deliberate consumption of soil. It is common in urban South Africa, where it is believed to lighten the skin and thus make young women more attractive. But here, the clay may contain dangerous metals because of acid mine drainage. The plants in the background are called phragmites. They grow all around these mine dumps because they thrive in soil that contains high concentrations of metals. This metallic soil may not be as good for the community’s crops or their animals, which eat the crops and drink the surrounding water. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
This "beach next to the road" in Kagiso stinks like rotten eggs. Sulpher gives it the colour and the smell. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
This “beach next to the road” in Kagiso stinks like rotten eggs. Sulphur gives it the colour and the smell. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
This is a tiny sign, perhaps half the size of a normal stop sign, next to the road where there is un-restricted access to mine wastewater. One of the Kagiso community leaders asked me what I thought the sign meant (Photo: Anina Mumm)
This is a tiny sign, perhaps half the size of a normal stop sign, next to the road where there is un-restricted access to mine waste water. One of the Kagiso community leaders asked me what I thought the sign meant (Photo: Anina Mumm)
The pipes transporting acid mine water are, according to Mariette Lieferink, not properly protected or maintained. If they burst or if they are damaged because of rust, the acid mine water pollutes the surrounding area. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
The pipes transporting acid mine water are, according to Mariette Lieferink, not properly protected or maintained. If they burst or if they are damaged because of rust, the acid mine water pollutes the surrounding area. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
(1) The unnatural landscape in Kagiso due to mining. This is what Mariette calls the "legacy of mining". (Photo: Anina Mumm)
(1) The unnatural landscape in Kagiso due to mining. This is what Mariette calls the “legacy of mining”. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
(2) The unnatural landscape in Kagiso due to mining. This is what Mariette calls the "legacy of mining". (Photo: Anina Mumm)
(2) The unnatural landscape in Kagiso due to mining. This is what Mariette calls the “legacy of mining”. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
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(3) The unnatural landscape in Kagiso due to mining. This is what Mariette calls the “legacy of mining”. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
(5) The unnatural landscape in Kagiso due to mining. This is what Mariette calls the "legacy of mining". (Photo: Anina Mumm)
(5) The unnatural landscape in Kagiso due to mining. This is what Mariette calls the “legacy of mining”. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
Treated (neutralised) water gushing out for re-entry into the river system. Though the water is neutral, some harmful chemicals, including sulphates, may remain. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
Treated (neutralised) water gushing out for re-entry into the river system. Though the water is neutral, some harmful chemicals, including sulphates, may remain. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
A path where acid mine water used to flow. The soil looks like little sausages that you can pick up. When you drop it it makes a clanging sound. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
A path where acid mine water used to flow. The soil looks like little sausages that you can pick up. When you drop it it makes a clanging sound. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
Kagiso community leaders look at the acid mine water treatment plant. Here, lime is added to neutralise the water, which causes some of the dissolved metals to drop out of the water. Mariette says this is only a short-term treatment, since sulphates are not removed. These sulphates eventually reach the Vaal dam, which Mariette says may lose its capacity to effectively dilute the sulphates by as early as 2016. (Photo: Anina Mumm)
Kagiso community leaders look at the acid mine water treatment plant. Here, lime is added to neutralise the water, which causes some of the dissolved metals to drop out of the water. Mariette says this is only a short-term treatment, since sulphates are not removed. These sulphates eventually reach the Vaal dam, which Mariette says may lose its capacity to effectively dilute the sulphates by as early as 2016. (Photo: Anina Mumm)

 

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