News Feature | April 29, 2014

Price Tag On Toxic Water Cleanup In South Africa: $1 Billion

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


South Africa may have to pay as much as almost $1 billion to clean up toxic water leaking from defunct gold mines, according to the government. 

"The estimated spending of 9 billion rand ($863 million) to 10 billion rand ($944 million) will be enough to 'neutralize the [mine water] and also desalinate' it," Bloomberg Businessweek reported, citing a government official. 

“That will make available 150 million liters (40 million gallons) per day, which is potable-quality standard, and it will also reduce the water we’re currently using from Lesotho,” the official told Bloomberg.

This announcement from the Department of Water Affairs arrives as the nation struggles with water scarcity. South Africa is the 30th-driest country in the world, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. The demand for water is expected to outstrip the supply by  2025, the report said. 

Toxic water is a legacy of South Africa's lengthy mining history. 

South Africa "[overindulged] in more than 120 years of lucrative gold mining," Business Day reported. The nation "now has a massive hangover to deal with: to start closing down depleted mines." 

"South Africa is battling acid mine drainage, which occurs when water that floods cavernous areas previously mined for gold becomes infiltrated with toxic chemicals, including uranium, and leaks into rivers. About 6,000 abandoned mines litter the country, many of them gold mines. Few environmental regulations were in place until the mid-1990s," Bloomberg reported.

Ratepayers could be hit hard by cleanup costs. 

"While the government and mines would foot part of the bill, the cost would mostly fall on consumers," Bloomberg Businessweek reported, citing a government official. 

Closing up mines has created a policy mess. 

"The government and companies are ill-equipped to deal with the environmental and social headaches caused by mine closures, and this resulted in tragedy. When Grootvlei and Blyvooruitzicht mines went into liquidation, for example, assets were stripped and communities were left destitute," Business Day reported. 

The mine water treatment industry is a vibrant part of the water sector. The International Mine Water Association, an advocacy group, represents a chunk of this industry. 

For more check out Water Online’s industrial water page  

Image credit: "South Africa Landscape Creative Commons Wallpaper 6," © 2009 zoutedrop, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

Want to publish your opinion?

Contact us to become part of our Editorial Community.