Mine dumps are hazardous, say residents

By Ilanit Chernick Time of article published Oct 21, 2015

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Johannesburg - Riverlea, Diepkloof and Meadowlands are just some of the greater Joburg suburbs where old mine dumps and abandoned mineshafts have become hazards to communities.

On Tuesday, The Star joined the Bench Marks Foundation on a “toxic tour” of the areas, and residents spoke about their health concerns and the dangers an abandoned mining pit posed for children.

Patricia Plaatjies, 61, told The Star she has been battling with a lung disorder since 2009.

“As you can see, I am now on an oxygen machine 16 hours a day. I have lived here for 45 years and we breathe in the dust and toxic waste from the mine dumps. The water in the rivers is toxic and nothing has been done about it,” she said.

“I worry for the future generations because the environment is not safe, and it’s not only me who is affected.

“The people responsible for the abandoned mines and the dumps need to take action and do something. It has been like this for 18 months. I can’t relocate now - where would I go?”

Riverlea resident Charles van der Merwe said a one-year-old child was also on oxygen because of the mine dust.

“In just one extension, there are nine people who are affected - both children and elderly - all of them are on oxygen machines,” he said.

The lead researcher at the Bench Marks Foundation David van Wyk, who led the tour, said the health concerns of the mining communities were personal to him.

“My father-in-law died from not being able to breathe and my nephew had a deformity - both lived around mine dumps.

“When one breathes in the dust, it goes straight into the body and can lead to bone cancer and also cause DNA codes to mutate, which can lead to deformed children,” he added.

Van Wyk said there was uranium, cyanide and radioactive material in the dust, and this endangered the lives of mining communities.

He added that many residents in these areas suffer from bronchitis, asthma, lung conditions, eczema and head sores from the continual exposure to the mine dust.

The group were also shown a large, deep pit which is next to a primary school field where children play.

The pit was created by mining in the area, and has since been abandoned.

A low fence with warning signs is the only deterrent stopping people from falling down the hole.

Riverlea Community Forum chairman Reece Rosenberg said: “It’s concerning because children don’t understand the dangers like adults do.

“If they’re playing soccer on the field and the ball is kicked over into the open pit, that fence will not stop them from climbing over.

“It’s not only our children who go to this school who are endangered, there are children from other communities like Soweto.

“Nothing has been done about it.

“We’ve tried speaking to the mining company but it’s always backwards and forwards, and we don’t know what to do next.”

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The Star

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