Mining Pollution. Humans, we are failing this Earth.


In this blog post, with reference to the environmental issue of mining pollution, three articles will be discussed in the form of an EH analysis based  on the article by Holm, P et al. (2015.) According to Grant and Lawhon (2014:43), environmental concerns such as mining pollution are cast into a negative light and cause the public and the government to reach a state of denial about the issue and not respond appropriately. From the three articles, the issue of mining pollution will be made aware of and possible solutions will be discussed.

SA facing another toxic water danger

  • Drivers of change: Panfontein Colliery (proposed new mine near water pump)
  • What’s happening?There’s a new coal mine near a pump station at the Vaal is a threat to the water supply to millions of people in South Africa.
  • What can be done? The mine can not be built?
    Safer mining practices can be developed in order to reduce the amount of water pollution
    Heavy legislation can be implemented to force safer mining practices in order to reduce water pollution
  • How can it be done? Investigate alternative methods of electricity creation, therefore a mine won’t be needed to power a coal powered power station.
    Educate students studying courses related to the implementation of coal mines on alternative mining methods and safer mining methods that won’t result in the pollution of the available water supply.
    A proposed solution to available methods of safer mining practices will have to be brought up as a proposed bill and later passed into an act, in order to be enforceable within operative mines

 

Mining company in hot water over pollution

  • Driver of change: Phalaborwa-based mining company Bosveld Phosphates
  • What’s happening? The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA) laid criminal charges against the owners of a tailing dam that overflowed and created pollution of the Selati and Olifants rivers in Limpopo.
    It overflowed in late December due to heavy rains, releasing highly acidic water into the Selati River, which flows into the Olifants River, killing fish over a 15km stretch of water.
  • What can be done? They have taken administrative action and have laid criminal charges against Bosveld Phosphates for infringing the National Water Act.
  • How can it be done? Immediate action was taken to provide safe drinking water to the tourist camps around the Vaal.

Paying the price for mining

  • Driver of change? A hundred years of mining has polluted the water supply and negatively impacted food and health
  • What’s happening? It has become a huge problem and the government is rushing to create an appropriate response for a relatively new issue.
  • What can be done? Studies need to be conducted to identify the issues at hand and gauge how the government must react, and create a map of the mining pollution problem and other problems the country could face. Studies on the effect of mining pollution on humans and the environment must be done as well.

 Do the drivers for change relate to the “Great Acceleration” of human technologies, powers and consumption?

The three media articles, News24 (2014), SAnews (2015), and IRIN (2008)  suggest that the cause of toxic water pollution in South Africa in a large sense, are the creation of mines and tailing dams (which hold contaminated mine water to be later recycled and reused) which then drain and overflow into South Africa’s water supply and cause the water to be unusable for drinking, farming and everyday purposes. The “Great Acceleration” as detailed by Holm et al. (2015.), is discussed as:  “human technologies, powers and consumption in [of] the last 70 years that has operated as a key driver of Global Change. These human advances have come with an alteration of the planet’s carbon and nitrogen cycles, rapidly rising species extinction rates, and the generation of atmospheric greenhouse gases, which in turn are catalysts for adverse weather patterns and increased ocean acidification, the consequences of which will condition life on the planet for centuries to come.”

With reference to the above definition of the “Great Acceleration,” the drivers for change that are causing toxic water pollution due to mining practices can certainly be linked to the concept. Mines and mining practices are creating contaminated water systems and water supplies that are thus rendered useless for everyday needed use, drinking, and most importantly: farming. Contaminated water that is unknowingly used to irrigate farms and crops creates crops that are inedible. Farm animals cannot be fed and watered with contaminated water, which means herds and livestock die. Toxic mine water that overflows from tailing dams, as mentioned in SAnews (2015) thus kills fish populations within rivers and dams, and that could lead to the extinction of fish and animal species if they are continually killed by and ingest toxic water as a result of mining pollution.

A political factor that drives this change is the greed and want of the South African government to be seen as a world power, thus they continually build more power stations which need more mines to keep them running, which thus means an increased risk and volume of toxic water pollution as a consequence of the increasing amount of mines being developed. A social factor that can be observed is the fact that South Africans are in need of the commodity of electricity, so more coal mines are needed to keep up with this demand.

How does the absence or presence of solutions relate to “The New Human Condition”?

 

The “New Human Condition”, as explained by Holm et al. (2015.), is: “how we choose to identify, respond to and cope with the consequences and responsibilities of environmental concerns. Do we respond in denial, despair, alarmism or action?”  The SAnews (2015), and IRIN (2008)  articles provide solutions that the government and other enabled organisations and initiatives would be able to participate in.

The SAnews (2015) article mentions that administrative action was taken against Bosveld Phosphates for infringing the National Water Act. This is a solution that is easy to maintain and implement, which is an example of how the “New Human Condition” is represented by the action that is taken by the DWEA director for compliance monitoring and enforcement. The IRIN (2008) article, however, brings up a point that it is not enough to simply take action against companies whose mines end up polluting water, and that a response towards creating a solution to the problem of mining pollution contaminating water supply is necessary. This is an alarmism response related to the “New Human Condition.” The article mentions that studies are needed to identify the issues related to mining pollution, in order for the government and other organisations to know how to react and respond to the problem, e.g how to stop the pollution from happening and the actual effect that the mine pollution in water supply may have on humans and the environment. The studies can thus be used to create an idea of the issues and problems at hand, and how the government and other areas of the country can react and solve the problem. The News24 (2014)article lacks any provided solution to the problem, which means that no one will react to the problem and it thus creates a sense of denial amongst the people of South Africa, as it may be believed that there are no available solutions.

Do the proposed solutions engage with the business / corporate sector?

The SAnews (2015)  article engages directly with the business/corporate sector, as the company that creates and runs the mine is directly charged and punished for infringing the National Water Act and for causing water pollution, which is an issue that the business itself must address and they must come up with their own solution. The businesses probably won’t implement solutions though, as new methods and solutions can often be costly and thus would be a loss of capital and profit. IRIN (2008) does not engage with the business/corporate sector, as it relates to issues that the government must address and find solutions to, which means that it would not require business or corporate input from the companies that own and run mines.

Do the proposed solutions and means to do it stem from collaborative processes of research stakeholder engagement and public participation?

The IRIN (2008). article involves collaborative processes of research, as the solution involves the government working with institutions to create and carry out studies and methods of researching ways to solve mining pollution and the effect that mining pollution has on people and the environment. It is a collaborative effort as many areas and fields of study within science, engineering, agriculture and environmental studies would need to be consulted as the government and other institutions structure their research and studies. The solution also stems from public participation, which is needed in forms of interviews, surveys and studies of the human body in order to understand the effect of mining pollution on the human body. The SAnews (2015) article involves no collaborative processes of research or public participation, but there should be stakeholder engagement, as a business that is criminally charged for polluting the water supply via their mine would have to engage and work towards a functional solution.

Are the solutions translated into practical means that can easily be achieved by the public?

The IRIN (2008). has an solution that can be achieved by the public, as they can participate in the studies on the effect of mining pollution on the human body, and answering a few surveys or interviews is an easily achieved task by the public. Everything else within the solution is something that requires government input, which the public cannot achieve or try to achieve. The SAnews (2015) articles solution cannot be easily achieved by the public, as the company has to respond to the issue and provide the solution to the problem of mining pollution in the water supply

In conclusion, with the appropriate media coverage and discussion, the public, the corporate sector and the government can react appropriately to the issue of mining pollution and implement practical and long lasting solutions. Looking past the negative light that the media casts on environmental issues, people can take action and help solve the problem.

 

 

SOURCES CONSULTED

Grant, S & Lawhon, M. 2014. Reporting on rhinos: analysis of the newspaper coverage of rhino paoching. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education 30:39-52.

Holm, P et al. (2015.) Humanities for the Environment—A manifesto for research and action. Humanities 4:977–992.

IRIN. (2008). Paying the price for mining. [Online.] Available at: http://www.irinnews.org/report/76780/south-africa-paying-price-mining
Accessed 1 April 2016

News24. (2014). SA facing another toxic water danger. [Online.] Available at: http://www.news24.com/Green/News/SA-facing-another-toxic-water-danger-20141024
Accessed 1 April 2016

SAnews. (2015) Mining company in hot water over pollution. [Online.] Available from: http://www.sanews.gov.za/south-africa/mining-company-hot-water-over-pollution
Accessed 1 April 2016

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