Waiting to inhale in Riverlea

Results from the water testing 2.2 pH levels. Healthy water has a pH level of 6.5.

On August 29, the Bench Marks Foundation released their ‘Waiting to inhale’ study which they have been conducting over the past three years. The release took place at the Riverlea Empowerment Centre.

Bench Marks Foundation is an independent non-governmental organisation mandated by churches to monitor the practices of multi-national corporations to ensure they respect human rights, protect the environment, ensure that profit-making is not done at the expense of other interest groups; and ensure that those most negatively impacted upon are heard, protected and accommodated within the business plans of the corporations.

The foundation was launched in 2001 by the right reverend Dr Jo Seoka who is the chairperson of the organisation and by the South African Council of Churches.

The communities studied were Riverlea, Diepkloof, Meadowlands and Doornkop, all of which are situated close to toxic mines. Focusing on Riverlea, the study highlighted major factors which indicated the toxic time bomb which people are unaware of.

According to David van Wyk, lead researcher of the study, by law mining is supposed to take place at least 500 metres away from any residential or public infrastructure.

Yet the mines in Riverlea are operating within 34 metres of T.C Esterhuysen School. In a toxic tour taken by the group, it was found that the access road to T.C. Esterhuyzen Primary School collapsed recently due to the opencast operations at Central Rand Goldmine.

Bench Marks recommended that the 500-metre limit is extended to 2000 metres. The study said that the allocation of mining licences for areas in which a 500-metre exclusion zones applies is common in Gauteng, and are “disasters waiting to happen”.

“Mines within 500 metres from major roads, railway lines, housing, schools, electric power lines, and petroleum and water pipelines are shortsighted and not in the interests of public health and safety.”

Some houses are built in flood plains, and during the rainy season, especially in Riverlea Extension, residents have complained that their homes were covered in water.

This water is not just rainwater but that of highly toxic acid from the mine drains. Mines do not only use up a lot of water but they poison underground water sources as well.

It is said that if pregnant women drank this water their infants may be born disabled or deformed. All around the open pit mines are white poles which indicate that there are gas pipes underground. Sasol’s gas pipes to be exact, and van Wyk made it clear that the mining even compromises these pipelines.

The Riverlea community live in a highly radioactive environment and this increases the chances of developing cancer.

“The radioactivity comes from the presence of radon in the mine waste, a by-product of decomposing uranium found both naturally in the environment and as a result of decomposing mine waste. Radon gas is the second largest cause of lung cancer on the planet after smoking,” said Bench Mark.

There is a list of factors which raise questions as to why the government hasn’t stopped these mining companies and why hasn’t anyone warned residents about this before.

For more information on the impact or solutions, contact David van Wyk on 082 652 5031 or Bench Marks on 011 832 1743/2 or email [email protected]



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Janice Beckett

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