South African miners to pay 67% of acid drainage clean-up costs

Ceres waste water treatment plant, one of six facilities in the Drakenstein Local Municipality, Western Cape, South Africa. (Image courtesy of IRC)

South Africa is planning to charge mining companies about 67% of the cost for cleaning up toxic water pollution caused by their century-long operations in Gauteng, the country’s richest province that includes Johannesburg.

The government will pay for two-thirds of the cost by collecting money from mining companies through a new environmental levy.

The Water Ministry said Wednesday the long-term plan to treat acid mine drainage will cost as much as 12 billion rand ($760 million) and be implemented by February 2020.

The authority added that users would pay for a third of the cost, with the rest coming from the government, which in turn will collect money from mining companies through an environmental levy.

Acid mine drainage (AMD) is the outflow of acidic metal rich water formed by the reaction between the water and rock containing sulphur-bearing minerals in mine sites. It especially occurs in metal and coal operations and often the water supplies that are affected end up developing pH levels similar to those of battery acid, rendering the water harmful to humans as well animal and plant life.

“This long-term intervention will therefore turn the AMD problem into a long-term sustainable solution by producing fully treated water,” Water Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane said in the statement.

Roger Baxter, CEO of the country’s Chamber of Mines said levies are not the solution, Bdlive reports. He did comment, however, on the impact the charge would have on the operations of its members, which include AngloGold Ashanti, the world’s No.3 gold producer, and Sibanye Gold, South Africa’s largest producer of the precious metal.

Acid mine water in the country is considered a legacy of 120 years of gold mining in the Witwatersrand Basin, the source of about a third of all the world’s gold.