Gold mining’s toxic legacy: Pollutant transport and accumulation in the Klip River catchment, Johannesburg

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DOI:

https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2021/8668

Keywords:

acid mine drainage, Witwatersrand, gold mining, metal enrichment, wetland

Abstract

Waste from gold mines is considered to constitute the largest single source of waste pollution in South Africa and contributes significantly to acid mine drainage, which remains one of the country’s most serious environmental and socio-economic issues. Run-off from the Central Rand Goldfield discharges into wetlands along the Klip River, which are known to be important sinks for toxic pollutants. The aim of this study was to examine the transport, migration and sequestration of metal pollutants in the upper Klip River catchment in further detail. Analyses reveal that the majority of pollutants are associated with contaminant plumes that emanate from mine dumps and enter the wetland via groundwater recharge. This water carries highly elevated concentrations of Co, Ni, Zn, U and rare earth elements, which are naturally sequestered within the wetland, largely through precipitation and adsorption. While surface run-off from mine dumps severely contaminates watercourses within the upper catchment, surface inputs are considered relatively minor contributors to the overall pollutant load entering the Klip River wetland, although aerosol fallout is an important source of Pb. The extensive accumulation of metals within the Klip River wetland reflects the contaminant legacy associated with gold mining on the Witwatersrand and highlights the vital role this natural system has played in trapping vast quantities of toxic pollutants and remediating downstream waters. Contaminant plumes associated with mine dumps will likely persist for decades; preventing further deterioration of the Klip River wetlands is thus critical for safeguarding water sources in the region.

Significance:

  • Run-off and groundwater emanating from the Central Witwatersrand Basin is highly contaminated with toxic metals.
  • The seepage of acidic water from mine waste dumps is considered the primary source of contamination.
  • Significant quantities of pollutants are trapped naturally within the Klip River wetland.
  • Preventing further deterioration of the Klip River wetlands is critical for the protection of freshwater resources in the region.

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Published

2021-07-29

How to Cite

1.
Chetty S, Pillay L, Humphries MS. Gold mining’s toxic legacy: Pollutant transport and accumulation in the Klip River catchment, Johannesburg. S. Afr. J. Sci. [Internet]. 2021 Jul. 29 [cited 2021 Sep. 27];117(7/8). Available from: https://sajs.co.za/article/view/8668

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Research Article

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